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Purpose Problem?

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I recently had a conversation with a young man who was sharing his journey through a very dark season. His story is not very different from many people in our world. He was lost, confused and empty. Without direction, he turned to illegal substances and ended up at death’s door a couple of times. He is now not only free from this place of lostness, he is thriving!   Thankfully, this young man had not gotten to the point of a crippling addiction, but he was nonetheless directionless. His turning point came from a conversation with a counselor who was discussing his substance issues with him. The counselor’s words were direct and powerful: “you don’t have an addiction problem, you have a purpose problem”. What this young man needed more than anything was purpose. He needed to know why he was here, what he was supposed to do; he needed a reason to get up every morning! For this young man, these words were life-giving and helped him turn everything around! 

This problem of having no purpose is a real issue for people all over the planet. So many just wander through life without true direction without a sense of purpose or meaning, but this was never God’s plan. In fact, since the beginning of time God had a purpose for each of us. We were created for a purpose, by a God who intentionally gave us life. But the truth is, many of us have no idea what our purpose is. Sure, we may have a job, be “living” our lives, but is living aimlessly really a life worth living? I, for one, am not satisfied with that type of life. I want more. Maybe this is where you are today. God has much to say about our purpose, but a great place to start is with the truth that God’s purposes always prevail! 

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do. Isaiah 46:10-11 

I don’t know about you, but when I read this, I feel an incredible amount of peace because when I feel purposeless, I can turn to a God who has a plan and be assured that not only will His plans come to fruition, but He chooses to use men and women (like me and you) to “fulfill” His purpose!

So, this is where you must start when you are searching for your purpose–with God! He will not only “fulfill [His] purpose, but He is the only one who can truly fulfill you! If you have found that you feel empty, lost, dissatisfied and longing for more, maybe you have a “purpose problem”. So, the answer is to seek the God who has the solution to all the problems you will ever have!

For a few more verses on God’s purposes read Jeremiah 32:19, Job 42: 2, Proverbs 16:4, 20:5, Psalms 33:11

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Go and Do Likewise

Several years ago a hotel chain launched a very successful ad campaign that brought the budget hotel into the mainstream. The byline of this popular advertisement was “we’ll leave the light on for you”! The message was simple. We want you to stay with us because we will treat you like a part of the family. The phrase was warm, welcoming and made travelers feel like it was a place that would be just right for a short stay. 

While this phrase is just an invitation to book a room at a hotel, the phrase is one that I can’t get off my mind. You see, this past week we said goodbye to a man who embodied the sentiment behind this phrase. In fact, from the first day I met Rodney Brooks (Rod) 32 years ago until the last time he gave me a hug, I felt invited, accepted, welcome and loved!! He was just like that. But It wasn’t just me who felt this way, it was everyone who ever came in contact with him for longer than a minute felt the same way. He had a way about him where he treated everyone the same and as if they were the most important people to him. Of course, I know he had his favorites, but you never felt that way when you talked to him. He genuinely cared, and saw beneath the surface what a person was thinking or feeling. You knew this because of the questions he asked. He was never impersonal or general, he was specific and intentional. 

What was it that made Rod so special? Hands down it was his relationship with Jesus Christ. No doubt, you will rarely meet a more genuine man of God. He emulated loving God and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. Living for the Lord was his lifeblood, his purpose, his calling. Sure, he was a successful businessman, running a construction company for many years, a solid leader in the community and a faithful minister in his church, a loving husband of 35 years and incredible father and grandfather, but it was his love for the Lord and dedication to sharing him with anyone and everyone that made him a stand out among men. What was so incredible about his witness was that because of his authentic life marked by giving, serving and loving everyone, people who heard his testimony took it to heart. He modeled the life of a Christ follower in a way that made others want to be just like him! There was not an ounce of hypocrisy in him and I guess that’s one of the most inspiring things about him. His funeral was a packed house with people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate a life well lived and one that will certainly leave a hole that will be impossible to fill. 

So how do we process and move on from a loss this monumental? At the funeral there were numerous verses shared that reflected Rod’s life. They were all appropriate and perfect, but for me, this is the lesson I learned from Rod. It is found in Luke chapter 10 – the story of the good Samaritan.  Verses 10-37 are packed with truth, so I recommend reading it, but let me sum it up. When a Jewish man was traveling and was attacked by robbers and left for dead, no one came to his aid but rather avoided him and passed on the other side, until a Samaritan, who was actually an enemy of the Jews, stopped to help him. He took care of his wounds, paid for a meal, a place to stay, in other words he helped him back on his feet. This is Rod. He never met a stranger and a person in need was never a bother. (this is true about his wife, Cindy, as well). All of this passage is true about Rod, but the phrase that gets me is verse 37. This is where Jesus said unequivocally, “go and do likewise”!  Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to give us a model of how to truly love our neighbor, and God gave us Rodney Brooks to show us an example for our time! 

How can we honor this man’s legacy? We can follow his example of loving people, welcoming everyone, giving generously and being genuine in our actions and words. In fact, living more like Jesus kind of sums it up and that’s exactly what Rod would tell us to do!

So, while his loss is deep and wide, I know he is with his Savior and I think he is saying, see you soon, “I will leave the light on for you”!

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Easter Sunday: April 17, 2022

Read Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1:1-11

Today, all over the world, people are celebrating the greatest comeback story ever told – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Yet, this is not a story. It was a real event that literally changed the course of history and began a movement that has transformed the lives of billions of people during the past 2000 years. Without the resurrection, we have the story of great teacher who was falsely accused, and ended up dying on a cross. With the resurrection, He solidifies His teaching that He was not just a great teacher. You see, on numerous occasions, Jesus claimed to be God. (Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, John 8:24, 28)  The Messianic title Son of Man and the words “I am” were known by all of the Jews as titles reserved for God Himself, so on the day when He rose from the grave, He proved this once and for all! No one has ever raised from the dead, it is not natural. Resurrection from the dead is a supernatural occurrence and reveals that Jesus is truly who He said He was. Not a great teacher, who did a lot of great miracles and died as a sacrifice, but THE RISEN LORD!  Because of the resurrection, we who believe in His name will also not die but will have everlasting life! (John 3:16)

While a resurrection from the dead can not be scientifically proven, if you put the case on trial, the evidence is so overwhelming that no one who gives it an honest investigation can walk away and deny its validity. In order to say that the resurrection did not happen, a person would have to deny evidence that is beyond explanation any other way. Thousands of skeptics have tried to disprove this event, and all who were honest in their evaluation of the evidence, came to one conclusion: It happened. When you come to this verdict, you have no other choice but to put your faith in Jesus as God and this in turn changes everything! You read His teaching differently, knowing that everything Jesus taught was God’s instruction for man. You desire to obey, knowing that what He did – dying on the cross for you – was done out of a great love for His creation. See, the reality of the resurrection makes everything make sense! 

All four gospel writers record the resurrection. Each of the writers gives the details of this event from different angles, but there is no debate on whether it happened or not! The Bible and history learned from extra-Biblical literature makes the case for the resurrection rock solid. First, consider the disciples. Remember yesterday they were hiding out, afraid to come out in public for fear of arrest, but after this day, they are completely changed. They go from fearful followers to fiery preachers almost overnight. They preach about the resurrection with such confidence that no warnings of beating, imprisonment or death can deter them. You see, something changed them and there is no other logical conclusion except that they must of come face to face with the risen Lord. When you have an encounter with the risen Lord, you are a never the same again! Then, there is Paul. Paul was a zealous persecutor of the early church until one day he meets the risen Lord. His whole life and mission changed on that Damascus road, and He boldly preaches and writes about the reality of the resurrection for the rest of his life. Also, Jesus’ brother, James, who did not believe Jesus was the Son of God before the resurrection, becomes a believer and important leader in the early church! (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Change like we see in these men is not natural. It is only possible because of something supernatural – A man rising from the dead! 

Another important aspect of the resurrection is the empty tomb. Unlike the majority of famous people throughout history, there is no grave to visit for Jesus Christ. A trip to Israel won’t take you there because the tomb was empty!  The Pharisees and religious leaders floated a rumor that the disciples stole the body, but think about it, these men were hiding out in fear just hours before the tomb came up empty. What would have caused them to come out of hiding, fight off a Roman guard and move a giant stone? It is not logical, and also doesn’t explain why almost all of them eventually died a martyr’s death. Why would they die for something they knew was a lie? Additionally, during the days that follow Christ’s resurrection, if they had stolen the body, the Romans would have found it and held it up for all to see. Jesus appeared to over 500 people after His resurrection. The gospels were written while these people were still living, so if the resurrection had not happened, someone would have said so, but that is not what happened. Instead, billions of people  have believed in the resurrection and have changed lives to prove it. Christianity is a movement that has been attacked throughout the past 2000 years, but nothing and no one has been able to stop it because the truth can not be silenced! It happened, and because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this world has never been the same! 

The resurrection was a miracle! The greatest miracle of all time and isn’t that what we are all longing for? A miracle? There is so much suffering in this world: brokenness, injustice, bondage, loneliness and fear to name a few. But, VICTORY is what this day represents! This one event was a game changer ending satan’s plans once and for all! Peter’s words are true: “God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24). Death had no hold over Him, and it has no power over us who believe anymore. In fact, the power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us through the Holy Spirit! “ The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” Rom. 8:11. Because of the Spirit’s power, we can overcome sin’s grip on us. As we daily yield our lives to Him, we can experience victory on a daily basis!! I pray that we can truly understand the truth of what the power of the resurrection means! This prayer from the apostle Paul is my prayer for us as we face all of the uncertainties of this world: 

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Let’s rejoice; let’s celebrate; He is ALIVE and His Life gives us both abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven!

To God be the Glory; Great things He Has Done!

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Holy Week: Day Seven- April 16, 2022

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Read:  Matthew 27:59-66; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42

Holy Saturday is the seventh day of the Holy Week and many see it as the day that Jesus “rested” from His work. The last phrase uttered by Jesus on the cross was “it is finished”! His work on earth was indeed finished as His plan to “give His life as a ransom for many” was complete! Because His work was completed on the cross, “in Him[we also] have been made complete” as the apostle Paul explains in Col. 2:10.

From the scripture standpoint, there is very little recorded about this day. The burial probably happened right at the end of Friday before the Sabbath which began after sundown. Typically, Romans were in charge of the body even after death, and their custom was to leave the body of a criminal on the cross for days to rot and be eaten by wild animals to serve as a reminder to others of what happens when a person goes against the Roman government. The Jews, however, didn’t want any bodies left up during Sabbath and especially during the season of Passover, so they had asked Pilate to have them removed. After Jesus was confirmed dead, Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, both Pharisees and secret disciples of Jesus, (John 19:38) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, in order to give Him a proper burial. It’s remarkable that the fate of even the executed corpse was in Pilate’s hands. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead according to Mark 15:44 because usually, crucifixion was a long, agonizing death, yet Jesus was dead in a few hours. His death was confirmed, however, by careful examination of eyewitnesses (John 19:31-36), and Pilate gave his permission.  No doubt, the removal of Jesus’ body was a physical and emotional experience for Joseph and Nicodemus. The Bible says that they wrapped the body in strips of linen with seventy five pounds of spices (myrrh and aloe) which was the burial custom of the Jews. Before they could wrap the body, it would need to be prepared. This means that all of the foreign matter would have to be removed from the body, and then it would be washed. Preparing the bloodied and bruised body of Jesus knowing He was innocent must have been difficult for these men who didn’t follow Christ openly while He was alive. Yet, they are the ones who take care of his body, and the disciples, who were always by His side during His earthly ministry were no where to be found. I daresay that there were other Pharisees who believed in Jesus in secret – and many more will definitely believe after tomorrow!

Jesus’ burial is an important part of the gospel. (I Cor. 15:3-4) References to His death, burial and resurrection will be used over and over by the disciples in the coming days. The fact that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb is a fulfillment of prophecy: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) The burial fulfills several predictions that Jesus made about Himself: (Matt. 12:40, 16:21, Mark 9:31, 10:33-34, John 2:19) His burial proves His death. Some religions and people who do not believe in the resurrection claim that Jesus didn’t really die but actually survived the crucifixion. A Roman crucifixion was not survivable but beyond that Pilate would never have given permission for His body to be taken unless he was certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was truly dead. Yes, Jesus died physically and His burial provides further proof.

But before we look any further into the events of this day,  let’s be clear about about what Jesus was doing on this day! He is not just wrapped in the linen cloth that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Him in, sleeping! The gospel writer Luke describes Jesus’ final moments on the cross like this: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23: 46). This particular passage contains some important information. First, it solidifies that while Jesus’ physical body died on the cross, His spirit was very much alive! In fact, His spirit was committed into the hand of the Father which is exactly what happens when Christians die. The spirit of a person goes on living in the presence of God; absent from the body; present with the Lord ( II Cor. 5:8). Another important proof that Jesus’ spirit is still alive is found in His conversation with the thief on the cross. Jesus tells this man who recognizes that Jesus is NOT just a man in Luke 23:43, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, Jesus’ work of redemption was finished on the cross, and now He awaits the Big Day!

Behind the scenes, an event that we do know happened on this day is recorded in Matthew 27:62-66. The chief priests and Pharisees pay another visit to Pilate asking for him to secure the tomb because Jesus had said that after three days He would rise, and they were worried that the disciples would steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. You have to wonder what Pilate was thinking about this desperate group of religious leaders who couldn’t seem to be satisfied by anything! Pilate tells them you have a guard “go make it secure”. Not only did they set a guard but they also sealed the tomb. A quick note about the Roman guard and seal. The Roman guard was sixteen men strong governed by very strict rules. Each member covered six square feet of space. There was no sitting, leaning or sleeping allowed. If this were to happen, the guard would be beaten and burned in all his clothes and the whole unit would also be killed because of the one guard’s failings. The Roman seal placed over the tomb authenticated that the tomb was occupied and Rome stood behind the seal. All of these precautions should have given confidence to the religious leaders that this menace, Jesus, would not bother them anymore! Of course, it is almost Sunday and well, they will discover that nothing can hold Jesus down!

What were the disciples doing on this day? Mark 14:50 tells us that when Jesus was arrested, ”they all left him and fled.” In John we read that they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of being arrested. Mark indicates in 16:10 that they were mourning and weeping. All of this tells us that disciples were not walking around Jerusalem or going with life as usual. They were grieving, afraid and keeping themselves hidden for fear of being arrested because of their connections with Jesus. You can imagine their sadness. This incredible teacher that they had just spent the last three years was just killed. They had believed that He was the one who was the promised Messiah but now He is gone. Although He had told them over and over again what was going to happen (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31), they didn’t really understand it. Based on all of the times that Jesus had told Him that He would have to suffer and die but would then come back to life, you would think they would be excited, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting. However, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that these disciples were awaiting His resurrection. In fact, the disciples’ fear and lack of boldness after Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the reasons that we know the resurrection was real! Their radical change after the events of Sunday is a pivotal point in history!

As disciples of Jesus, what are you doing today? Since we have the benefit of scripture to follow, we should be living in anticipation. Much like advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, we should be eagerly awaiting the events that will come tomorrow, with the faith and excitement of a little child! Additionally, we can rejoice and ponder the reality of what yesterday means. His death fulfilled the wrath of a Holy God for our sins. His blood poured out offers us forgiveness once and for all. His righteousness becomes our righteousness: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” II Cor. 5:21) Today’s focus should be gratitude! Despite living in this time of uncertainty, there are many things we can be certain of because of what He accomplished on the cross! What He did for us should cause us to offer up prayers of thankfulness and praise! We have been given an amazing gift, even though we don’t deserve it! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Today is a great day to give thanks!

The time for great celebration is just hours away! 

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Holy Week: Day Six – April 15, 2022

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Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 23, John 18-19

Good Friday is the day that is traditionally set aside to remember Christ’s crucifixion. While some may wonder why this is a “celebration” , a deeper look at not just what happened but what it all meant allows us to fully reflect on this truly Holy Day that is the climax of Christ’s life and central to Christianity.

This day actually begins early in the morning. To be more accurate, Jesus never sleeps. After spending some very intimate time with His disciples in the upper room for the Passover meal last evening, Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. A study of Christ’s life shows that He regularly prayed, but this prayer was different. It was the most heart wrenching prayer He has prayed thus far. In His humanity, He is in mental anguish over what is about to happen. The suffering that He is about to endure is known to Him and He cries out to God:“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. … And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44) This cup that Jesus speaks of is the cup of judgement. The physical suffering will be nothing compared to the great agony of having the Father turn His back on Him as He is judged for the sins of all mankind! He knows this is required, but in His humanness He must wrestle for a time with this. A sweet side note found in the gospel of Luke, where at the end of the prayer  “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him”. (Luke 22:43) This is a comforting glimpse at the work of angels bringing comfort to Him in his time of great need. Yet in the end, of course, He submits to the Father’s will, which is a beautiful example of surrender!

The next event is the betrayal of Judas, as he brings the religious leaders to arrest Jesus. While Judas’ betrayal is expected and even fulfills prophecy, the experience of being betrayed by someone close to you couldn’t have been easy. Besides Judas’ betrayal, He will experience the denial of Peter, one of His closest friends. When we experience painful relationship situations, let us remember that our Lord understands and knows the pain of betrayal, abandonment and rejection! Also remember that both Judas and Peter suffer as well, Judas bitterly faces the reality of his actions and Peter weeps over the depth of his sinful choices. While Judas’ remorse leads him to hang himself, Peter’s pain leads Him to repentance and ultimately, restoration, showing us that sinful actions will always lead us somewhere. Some people choose to become paralyzed, despondent and miserable as they look at their failures and stay there falling into a deeper hole of bitterness, anger and brokenness, but others, like Peter, allow the experience of failure to lead them to admit their sin and receive the forgiveness that Christ offers!

The events that occur next are a series of informal and “formal” religious trials, three to be exact, but none of these trials follow the standard rules set up by the Jews for a “criminal”. They provide no evidence in Jesus’ favor which would be the regular protocol despite the numerous miracles He has performed in front of them. Instead they twist His words, make up evidence and even flat out lie in order to support their bogus claims against Him. Along with this sham of a trial, they also verbally abuse Him, mock Him, blaspheme against Him and beat Him. They knew He was guilty of nothing, yet they were determined to get rid of Him because of their own pride and self-centeredness. Because they are not allowed to actually execute anyone, they take Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and then to Herod. Despite all of their accusations, Pilate finds Jesus innocent as does Herod.

Pilate is interesting because history tells us that he was an evil ruler who regularly showed no mercy to the accused, but according to the gospel writers, he tries to release Jesus, finding nothing worthy of death. This is quite remarkable. A man who wasn’t religious at all is more merciful than those who claim to be religious! Unfortunately, this is sometimes true in our world today, people who claim to be Christians show less mercy to people they dislike than the irreligious! As some who are far from God have said, “I have no problem with Jesus, it is the Christians that I don’t like”.  Let’s never be guilty of showing less mercy than the lost world! 

Pilate tries to appease the Jewish leaders by ordering Jesus to endure a brutal Roman scourging, but he is unable to convince the Jewish leaders to accept his innocent verdict and in the end succumbs to their demand to have Jesus executed. These corrupt leaders even incite the crowds to cry “crucify him, crucify him” in a frenzied roar thus forcing Pilate to give in. Pilate isn’t innocent of Jesus’ blood, but Jesus himself tells Pilate, “you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)  The truth that this quote clearly reveals is that Pilate, Herod and the religious leaders had no real power over Jesus’ fate despite what it may seem. In fact, Jesus has already revealed this in an earlier teaching when He told the disciples,” I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). These leaders will definitely be held accountable, but don’t believe for one moment that they were in control! God allowed all of this to carry out the greatest rescue mission ever!

The climax of this real drama happens next as Jesus goes to the Place of the Skull called Golgotha to be crucified! The gospel writers don’t go into depth about what the crucifixion was like because everyone during that day understood the brutality and torture of a Roman crucifixion. Designed to produce a slow and unimaginably painful death, the crucifixion was one of the most humiliating and horrific forms of execution to ever be used by any civilization. This is what our God endured for us! While on the cross, Jesus speaks very few words, but what He does say is monumental. The most incredible are the words, “Father  forgive them, for they know not what they do.” On the cross, in incomprehensible pain, Jesus prays for His executioners! He intercedes on their behalf which while this is hard to imagine for us; it is precisely why He is there! He came to die for the sin of ALL mankind! Sin put Him on the cross, but what keeps Him there is LOVE.

The LOVE displayed on the cross this day in 33AD is why this day is called GOOD FRIDAY! You see, justice is a concept we all understand.  The Jews knew this. For 1000’s of years they had been offering sacrifices for breaking the laws because sin demands payment. In all cultures through the ages people have created systems for how crimes are paid for. We all know this. When someone breaks a law, a consequence must follow. When someone owes a debt, it must be paid. We all believe that no one should get away with a crime, there must be justice. Sin is the great crime that we have all committed. Sin against a Holy God is a debt that must be paid! The message of the cross is that  instead of God demanding us to pay this debt, He does it Himself. He leaves heaven, He humbles Himself to become like us; He gives up the glory of heaven to experience temptation, loneliness, rejection, grief, and unfathomable pain to take our place. Someone has to pay and He willingly does this for us! Is there any greater example of love than this,“That someone lay His life down for his friends”!

Good Friday means that for all of us who accept Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, we are rescued from the prison of our own sin and are debt free! This is the freedom we really long for, and this is the freedom we have because of Jesus!  This is really GOOD NEWS!

The truth is: IT REALLY IS A GOOD, GOOD FRIDAY! 

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Holy Week: Day Five – April 14, 2022

Read Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–30, John 13:1-20

Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as some refer to it, is the day that Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples. This event is most often called the Last Supper and is the event that instituted the Christian sacrament of Communion. Many churches have a special communion service on this day to commemorate this event. At this meal, Jesus reiterates His purpose using visual symbols that would be central to the church that was about to be born. At this meal, Jesus also predicts Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and teaches about true greatness. After the meal, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane where he is arrested by the religious leaders and carried off to begin the longest night of His life.

At the beginning of the day, Jesus sends His disciples, only Peter and John, to prepare the Passover meal. A couple of quick points here is that the way Jesus does this indicates that He knew the Jewish leaders were about to come for Him, so He needed the preparation and place of the meal to be secretive to avoid arrest before the meal was done. By sending only Peter and John, He kept the location of the meal secret from Judas who was looking for a quiet place, away from the crowds, to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders. Another reason for only sending Peter and John is that only two people were allowed to go to the killing of the lamb because of the law and for practical reasons. Based on historical documents, there were 1000’s upon 1000’s of lambs slaughtered during a two hour window, so as you can imagine space was limited!

The process by which they would have prepared the Passover would have gone something like this: Peter and John would purchase an approved lamb and take it to the temple to be slain. They would then go to the place where it would be held and roast the lamb and make sure all was ready for the meal.  In the Jewish calendar, a new day began at nightfall, so Wednesday nightfall to Thursday nightfall was the day of preparation for the Passover meal. The Passover meal itself included: 1) Roasted Lamb  2) Bitter Herbs  3) Unleavened Bread  4) Fruit Sauce  5) Four cups of Wine. The meal would have been shared after sundown that evening (Thursday nightfall to Friday nightfall).

In the original Passover, the blood of the lambs had been applied to the homes of the Israelites in Egypt to protect them from the outpouring of God’s judgment upon the Egyptians (Exodus 11-12). Matthew alone records Jesus telling his disciples that His time is at hand on the morning of the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed. This is a good place to mention that up until this time, Jesus consistently told the disciples that His time had not yet come, but now the time has come. From the place that they would have the Passover meal to the arrest to His eventual crucifixion, God Himself is in control down to the last detail! While He will suffer a horrific death, Jesus’ death is not a result of a series of unfortunate events out of His control. On the contrary, everything is a part of His plan, His plan to save the world!

While we can assume that the actual Passover meal was taken in the traditional way, the reason taking the meal this night was so important was because Jesus needed to use elements from this meal to symbolize what He was about to do and what He wanted them to do in the future to commemorate this event. As He takes the unleavened bread, He holds it up and tells them, this is “my body”. Unleavened bread is used during the Passover because it represents the Israelites leaving Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time for the bread to rise. However, in the gospels, Jesus actually uses leaven to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Bread without leaven actually suggests the idea of something being without hypocrisy- real, genuine.  In John 6:35-51, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life that has come down from heaven and anyone who eats of this bread will live forever…” As Jesus breaks the unleavened bread on this night, He reveals that He is the REAL sacrifice that will be given for all men!

With the cup of wine, He gives new meaning to the covenant that Israel has had with God for all these years. In Israel’s covenant with God, blood has always been required for the remission of sins. The blood of the Passover lamb represented God “saving” the Jews from death and rescuing them from slavery. Now, as Jesus takes the cup, He explains that a new covenant is being established between Israel and God. it represents His blood that will be shed for the forgiveness of sins.  This is a new covenant that He is establishing with Israel. The establishing of a new covenant was prophesied in Jeremiah 33:31-33, and on this night, Jesus announces that this prophecy will be fulfilled as His blood is poured out for all!

As we reflect on the events of the this day, may we truly understand the significance of the practice of communion. May it never get old as we come to the table remembering our Lord as He willingly came to the cross!

While this last meal with the disciples held monumental significance for the disciples and for us as believers today, one very important event that we can’t leave out is detailed in John’s gospel:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 3-17)

This account of Jesus washing the disciples feet just hours before He goes to the cross is almost too much for us to comprehend, the God of the universe stooping down and taking the form of a servant. Of course, this is what the incarnation is all about. God becoming a man, stooping down to become like one of us, so that He could show us what true LOVE looks like and to set an example for how we can live! He could not be more clear! True “greatness” is found in humility and service to others. While most of us have heard this story, I am not sure we truly understand the full significance of this in 1st century AD.  Make no mistake, this was not the action of a typical ruler. Leaders and rulers would NEVER serve their subjects. In fact, all throughout history, this has never been the posture of those in power. This is why this scene and the one that will happen less from 24 hours from now is so remarkable. In Mark 10:45, Jesus defined his purpose: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” but today through washing their feet and tomorrow as He goes to the cross, His purpose is fully illuminated!

Willingly placing ourselves in a position of humility is not the normal way we operate as humans, in fact, our default mode is to strive for “greatness” by pushing our way to the top. We long for significance in the world’s eyes by getting more degrees, a better job, a bigger house, more stuff, or praise from men. Yet, our Lord defined significance through taking up the towel! His example should challenge us, convict us and, ultimately, change us!

If we are followers of Jesus, serving others is not an option. He led the way! We need to understand that life is NOT all about us. In fact, serving is the behavior of a true disciple!

Paul explains it this way:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Tomorrow we will read all about the power of the cross, but today, let’s focus on the Towel!

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Holy Week: Day Four – April 13, 2022

Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Read Matthew 26:3-16, Mark 13-14, Luke 21:5 – 22:6

Holy Wednesday is referred to by some as spy Wednesday and by others as silent Wednesday. Of all of the days of the Holy week this one has the most varied interpretations. While we can’t be sure of all of the specifics that occurred on this day,  What we do know is that tomorrow Jesus will celebrate the Passover with the disciples and the next day He will go to the cross. With this information, we can surmise a few probable events.

The name Spy Wednesday refers to speculation that this was the day that Judas confers with the chief priests and officers to turn Jesus over to them. We know from previous days’ events that these leaders have been seeking how to arrest Jesus. They are desperate to get rid of Him and this has all intensified since Jesus’ triumphal entry on Sunday. Remember on this day, Jesus allows the people to worship Him as the Messiah as He enters on the “foal of donkey” just as it was prophesied. He has been teaching every day, mesmerizing the people with His powerful words that reveal His authority. In fact, His teaching is so powerful that people are flocking to Him, “hanging on His every word”. Luke 21:37-38 tells us that “every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him” which leads us to assume that He is continuing to teach on this day as well.

Taking the traditional interpretation of Spy Wednesday, we will take a look at the Jewish leaders plan aided by Judas to arrest Jesus.  One of the interesting aspects of this event is the time; it is the time of the Feast of the Passover. Because of this, Jerusalem is packed with pilgrims who have come to the gather in the city for this all important festival. Many scholars estimate the numbers to be very high, 100’s of 1000’s. This fact alone raises the dramatic tension in the city. Large numbers of people made the potential for a riot much higher and not only were the Jewish leaders aware of the probable results of a public arrest, the Romans were also on high alert knowing that the large number of Jews could mean a possible uprising against them. One of the reasons we can assume that Rome was concerned is because of the presence of Pontius Pilate and Herod in the city.  Typically, these two leaders ruled from Tiberius and Ceasarea, but this week, they are here in Jerusalem for this Passover festival, presumably, to oversee the peace.

With the temple courts packed with enthusiastic pilgrims all seeking to hear the great teacher, the Jewish leaders recognize that arresting Jesus would undoubtedly provoke a riot. They are very aware that Jesus’ popularity will lead to a public protest that would  subsequently draw the Romans into the mix. This is why when Judas comes to offer to expose Jesus privately for 30 pieces of silver, they jump on the chance. Judas, being one of the twelve, is the perfect traitor. He knows the habits of Jesus, he is privy to intimate details of His whereabouts at all times, and as John tells us, Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6)

Despite his love of money, it’s difficult to understand why Judas would do this horrible act. He had walked with Jesus, seen Him do miracle after miracle, heard His mesmerizing teaching, experienced His supernatural compassion but at the end of the day, he never saw Jesus as anything more than a potential way out of Roman oppression; he wanted a “savior” but he had no interest in a Lord. No doubt exists that Judas didn’t really “know” Jesus, not because he didn’t have the chance to, but rather because he didn’t want to! Since it was prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed, some might say that Judas didn’t really have a choice, but make no mistake, he had a choice. God is not a puppet master; He is a loving Father who allows us to choose to love Him. Judas had a choice and he chose to betray the only person who loved him with an everlasting love!

Sadly, this is the state of many who call themselves Christians. They don’t really know Jesus, and this is obvious because of the way they live their lives. They might even choose Jesus as “savior” but trusting Him as Lord does not fit their agenda. Betrayal can happen in many ways. A couple of synonyms for the word betrayal are faithlessness and duplicity. Most of us would never ever see ourselves as a “betrayer” but is it possible that we struggle with faithfulness and loyalty to Christ. Do we always stand up for the truth no matter who we are around? Do we obey even if it means we are left out? Do we act one way when we are around our Christian friends and another way when we aren’t? Do we want Jesus to be our Savior but aren’t willing to give Him the total Lordship of our life? Make a decision to live as a faithful disciple. We always have a choice! 

Let’s take a look at another person in Jesus’ life that made a different choice. We read about her in Matthew’s gospel: 

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Simon the leper was most likely a man whom Jesus had healed who had become a follower.  The woman is Mary of Bethany whose brother was Lazarus. You may remember Mary as the one who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and worship while her sister Martha ran around preparing food (Luke 10:38-42). When Mary anoints Jesus, it is clear that she has insight into who He is and why He has come. Kings and priests were anointed, so anointing Jesus is more than appropriate!  In fact, her anointing His body was a sign of worship proving she saw Jesus as more than just a great teacher! Jesus calls her act a “beautiful thing” and praises her actions, but He acknowledges that this is not just a ceremonial anointing but rather a preparation for His burial! What is quite remarkable is that the disciples don’t get it! They are indignant that she would “waste” this precious perfume that could be used for the poor. This perfume is expensive, so her act cost her something. Yet, when you consider what Christ will be giving up in just two days, this perfume is nothing.

Mary is often referenced as the one who loved extravagantly; she wasn’t worried about what she was giving up, she chose to pour out this costly perfume on Him with complete abandonment and sacrifice. Although He won’t be buried for two more days, this woman’s uninhibited, unashamed act of love serves as a balm for Him as He approaches the day of ultimate suffering. She prepares Him for burial by loving Him greatly!

As we reflect on these final days of Jesus’ life on this earth, consider if you are willing to give up what is “costly” to you to truly worship Him!  These past couple of years have been a time where many of us have had to “give up” a lot of our traditions, routines, and even every day freedoms, yet we still have so much to be thankful for! Some have experienced great losses and are in the middle of loneliness, sadness, pain and deep grief. Yet, because of what will happen two days from now, we can experience hope! In many ways, Mary’s pouring out of the precious perfume is symbolic of the “pouring out” that Jesus will do because of His great love for us! Because of this act, we will gain eternal freedom from sin and death, healing from the pain of this world, riches unimaginable, and everlasting peace! So, doesn’t He deserve our wholehearted worship this season and every season? As we think about Jesus during this blessed week, may we be like Mary; let us choose to love Him with the same sort of deep emotion and surrender! Consider letting go of your worries, fears, doubts, anxiety, busyness and worldly desires, and focus only on Him!

May we truly love Him extravagantly!

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Holy Week: Day 3 – April 12, 2022

Read Matthew 21:23—23:39; Mark 11:27—12:44; Luke 20-21

Holy Tuesday is the third day of the Holy Week and while not all churches have services on this day, a study of the gospels shows that Jesus did a lot of teaching this day! There is no doubt that many important conversations happened and that Jesus wanted to solidify some important truths in the minds of His disciples because He knew they would need them once He was gone! A close look at these conversations can also give us direction as disciples living in the 21st century!

As Jesus enters Jerusalem this morning, He heads to the temple.* The temple is where Jesus set up His ministry while in Jerusalem, and this infuriated the religious leaders. The main reason for this is clearly, jealousy. You see, every time that Jesus was around, the people flocked to him. When He healed, they were in awe. When he spoke, they listened. Not only did they listen, but they were enthralled by His teaching. Words and phrases such as “astonished”, “marveled”, “hanging on his every word”….are used by the gospel writers. Over and over again, His actions and words proved His power and authority, yet the Pharisees could not stand it nor accept it. Why? Because He offended them. He was the “stumbling block” that the “builders rejected” (Acts 4:11). Ultimately, He threatened their power!

When He enters the temple this day, the religious leaders are still reeling from the previous days’ events. His clearing of the temple was followed by a time of healing and teaching (Matthew 21:14-17), where the people cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”. The Messianic titles poured out in praise to Jesus caused the religious leaders to become indignant, prompting them to begin questioning Him. Their goal was to trick Him and cause Him to say something that would incriminate Him, so that they can arrest Him, but alas they could not! In fact, Jesus showed His ability to use logic and reason to shut them down! They questioned him about His authority, His obedience to the laws of the land, the resurrection of the dead, and His answers not only silenced the Pharisees, but the Bible says they “marveled” at his words! 

The hypocrisy of these religious leaders who claimed to serve God was too much for the Son of God to just overlook. During these confrontations at the temple this day, He calls out their behavior through a series of parables that are clearly meant to reveal the coming judgement on the Pharisees and religious leaders. Matthew records the “seven woes” message that was directed toward them to serve as a warning of what was to come. Jesus’ ongoing chastisement of the Pharisees’ attitudes and hypocritical behavior should cause us as believers to reflect on our attitudes.  The sin of pride was rampant among the Pharisees, but sadly, many Christians suffer from this as well. Looking with judgmental eyes toward others, comparing our actions with theirs can lead us to a pharisaical type of attitude. We can begin to think we are better than others, trying to use our “good” works to prove our worth. Yet, just as the religious leaders failed to recognize their own depravity, we too can forget that “there is none who does good….not even one (Psalms 14:1-3).

Although Jesus had many confrontations this day, there are a couple of very important conversations to note. One is the conversation recorded in Matt. 22:34-40.

When one of the Pharisees, “a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36 ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In this one verse, He sums up our purpose! Love God and Love People. Although you have most likely read these verses on numerous occasions, you may not have ever realized that this conversation was toward the end of Jesus’ life. To know that after all of the teaching He had done, and Old testament verses He had quoted, He sums everything up in these two verses. He wants them to know this THESE are the ones which matter!

*An interesting note here is that during the 1st century AD, people did not “love” their neighbor. Serving others was not a Roman behavior nor an attitude of the religious leaders. The concept that Jesus was suggesting was radical in his day, but would be a crucial part of the church that is about to emerge a few weeks! Not surprising, this is still a command we need to be reminded of in 2022! We live in a world where people often are “too busy” to notice those around them who need a helping hand. In order to follow Christ’s command, we need to be intentional, looking for those who have needs and scheduling time to roll up our sleeves and “love our neighbors!” . Giving and Serving is one of the most Christ honoring behaviors we can do!

One other important conversation was when Jesus watched the people putting their money in the temple treasury and notices a poor widow who gives her two coins which is all she has. Her behavior becomes an object lesson for the disciples as He tells them that her offering was more than all of the others, although she gave the least. This is in stark contrast to the self-righteous Pharisees He has just addressed, whose large gifts were done for show. Many of the parables He has been teaching this day deal with the topic of who will be accepted into the kingdom. The religious leaders believe that their status as ancestors of Abraham and position as “keepers of the law” are their ticket to heaven. However, Jesus’ message is clear. The kingdom of heaven is not for those who think they deserve it, but it is for those who know they do not!

As you reflect on all of these conversations from the scripture today, consider an important truth. First, what is your own attitude toward your sins. The Pharisees were quick to point out the sins of others but did not seem to see their own sins. Their hypocrisy was an abomination to God and Jesus made sure they knew that. If you are honest, do you sometimes struggle with a Pharisaical attitude? Do you fall into trying to seek your own righteousness through your own “keeping of the law” – checking off boxes, comparing your “good” behavior to others, practicing obedience without a relationship? We have to remember, that No matter how hard we try or try to look like we have it together, we are NOT good in our own abilities.

Remember that THIS is why Jesus came! THIS is why He will go to the cross at the end of the week! We are all sinners and can never be “good” enough on our own; we need a Savior! Today is a good time to remember this! Today is a good time to ask Jesus to give you the right attitude! Today is a great time to put your faith in His goodness! 

**Let me share a little more information about chronology again as it relates to the different days and events during Jesus’ last week. When we read all of the different gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we may question the timing as we notice the different order of events. For instance, in Matthew it seems that some things happened on the same day, whereas in Mark, events seem to be occurring on the next day. Since there is rarely mention of specific days of the week until we get to Friday, we have to look at all of the gospels along with other historical records and background information to put together a timeline. With this in mind, it is helpful to understand that all of the gospels have different authors, therefore, different perspectives and priorities in the way they write. We are making inferences, in many cases, on which specific day an event or conversation happened. We also have church tradition which provides some framework for a timeline. Despite the apparent differences in some of the timing in the gospels, we discover that each account gives us different details that can help us understand the other account a little better and, in the end, we can make an educated guess on the chronology. For the most part, this devotional follows the traditional timeline.

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Holy Week: Day Two – April 11, 2022

Read – Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48

Reflection– On the traditional calendar, this is Holy Monday. Even though many churches don’t have any special services or remembrances on this day, there is no doubt that Jesus was busy, and his actions give us insight into what were some of his most important messages during these final days!  

In Mark 11:11, after the triumphal entry on Sunday, the gospel writer, Mark, explains that Jesus went out to Bethany to spend the night which was often his custom when visiting Jerusalem. One interesting point to understand is that Jerusalem was crowded during this week, in fact, extremely crowded since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread-Passover celebration and Jews from all over had come to the Holy City to participate. Some scholars estimate upwards of two million people could have been in and around Jerusalem during this time. This would explain one of the reasons that Jesus would not stay in Jerusalem at night. The other was that Bethany is where his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived, and so that would have been a comfortable place for him surrounded by friends during this final week.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem that Monday morning the first recorded activity was an encounter with a fig tree. Jesus was hungry and looked for food. The fact that Jesus experienced physical “hunger” reminds us of his humanness. In His deity, He would not have been hungry, but in his humanity he was. When He sees a fig tree with leaves but no fruit on it, His next action is surprising; He curses it and it withers immediately. You see, this type of fig tree only produced leaves when there was fruit on it, so it was truly an imposter. It looked “fruitful” but had nothing to show for it.

All throughout the Old testament, the metaphor of a plant (fig tree, vineyard, seed, tree) is used to describe Israel.  Many prophetic words describe the fate of Israel’s disobedience and lack of fruitfulness ( Isaiah 5:1-7, Ezekiel 17:1-10, Hosea 9: 10-17). Because of this fruitlessness, Israel ended up in captivity twice (Assyrians and Babylonians). When Jesus curses this fig tree. on this day, it is another clear sign that Jesus is no mere man. Only God could curse the fig tree and cause it to wither and produce no more, and this immediate pronouncement of judgment was very instructive for the disciples. This was the state of Israel at the time, and in a tangible way He was demonstrating that hypocrisy had no place with His people. Having an appearance of godliness (leaves) without the fruit was just like the Pharisees and religious leaders, and this was further proof that judgement was coming for them. The disciples are truly taken back by this bold move by Jesus and ask him how this could happen? Rather than giving them an explanation, His response points them to faith and to prayer and alludes to their future role in the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:33-44). 

The message of the fig tree to the disciples is a message to us as disciples today. As we live our lives are we just giving an appearance of godliness? More specifically, during this Holy season, do we just “look religious” or are really focusing on Christ Himself? A very important point here is that trees don’t produce fruit, they yield it. They don’t try really hard to make the fruit, they are fruitful as they obtain the nutrients from the soil. In other words, having a lot of religious activity is not a sign of fruitfulness, but staying rooted in the soil of God’s word will bring forth fruit in our lives. Our righteousness is not based on us, it is based only on His power. Every time the Israelites disobeyed and and turned to other gods, they stopped yielding fruit. We should recognize that God truly desires for us to live authentically, yielding fruit that comes from a heart focused on Him, because the consequences of hypocrisy are great!

The second event that happens this day is the cleansing of the temple. This is the second time that Jesus has had to exercise His authority when it came to the activities going on in the temple. Referencing two Old Testament passages, He reminds them of the purpose of the temple, what it is and what it is NOT.  Isaiah 56:7 says that the temple is to be used as a “house of prayer” which is very different than what the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrifices were doing. They were making a profit, driven by greed rather than a heart to pray for the nations. In Jeremiah 7:11, God pronounced judgment on Israel for the evil they had done, turning His house into a “den of thieves”. Not only were they making a profit off of selling the sacrifices, they were essentially robbing the people.

Two important thoughts should be considered here. First, using His authority in this way, Jesus really revealed who He was. Remember the day before He rode into town in humility on a colt, today He is exercising His Kingly authority by cursing the fig tree and driving out evil. Jesus, God in the flesh, made His identity clear. Jesus showed us that God is a God of peace but also of righteous judgment! He is a God of Love and a God who demands Justice!

Just two years ago, Easter week was a very different experience. In fact, on Easter 2020, we were clustered in our homes watching services online and foregoing the normal church attendance due to a crippling pandemic! But, two years later, we are in a different place. Easter services will happen all over the world in various sorts of venues – everything from beautiful cathedrals to crude huts and in some areas even”underground” gatherings. Easter, in fact, is typically the one day that many will come to church even if they don’t any other day of the year. To celebrate this glorious day with other believers in a corporate setting is a powerful experience! Yet, consider this: God no longer dwells in a temple made by man, but rather in our hearts! With this in mind, ask yourself: are you prioritizing holiness and prayer? In other words, what is the state of your temple today? Is it clear of greed, jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, and other self-focused (fruitless) thoughts or are you in need of some “de-cluttering”? Do you need to turn your life back into a place where God is at the center- where He can be honored in your every day life? As we come to worship this Easter (and every day for that matter) let’s remember that the “temple” of God is a place where God should be glorified! It’s not about us! Let’s recommit our “temples” to the one who “bought” us with His own blood!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Cor. 6:19-20)

Additional Historical background information https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojmonday

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Holy Week: Day One-Palm Sunday- April 10, 2022

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Today, we are one week away from Easter Sunday 2022, the pinnacle celebration for Christians all over the world! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central event of Christianity and the one that sets the Christian religion apart from any other world religion or worldview. While other religions are focused on how we can reach god or a godlike state, Christianity is completely different. In fact, there is no striving to get to “god”, but rather Christianity is about GOD coming down to us. He not only initiated a relationship with us but introduced a whole new way to live. In the sacrificial act of love displayed through the crucifixion and the miraculous demonstration of power shown through the resurrection of Jesus, we can have victory over sin and death and live with the confident assurance of eternal life! No other religion does this! In the religious world, today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of the week referred to as the Passion week or the Holy Week and is a time for both reverence and celebration. Join me this week as we walk through this Holiest of weeks and discover just why JESUS is “the way, the truth and the life”!

DAY ONE:

Read Matthew 21:1-11 and Luke 19: 28-40

Reflection: Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem for the final time.  He entered Jerusalem on Sunday* for the last time in what is known as the “triumphal entry.. Exactly one week later, he has the ultimate “triumphal” re-entry into the world through the Resurrection! In between these two events, Jesus experiences a multitude of emotions.

The significance of this whole event cannot be overstated. Up until now in Jesus’ ministry, He has shut down all attempts to hail Him as king in an open and public way. Over and over, He has told the disciples that His time had not yet come. When those who had been recipients of miracles wanted to spread it around, He told them to not make it known But today is different. Today is the day He allows them to worship Him as king!

Why is this day different?  First and foremost Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel. In fact, the passage in Daniel is very specific about the date that the Messiah will enter into Jerusalem. (Dan. 9:24-27). When studied closely, the day Jesus enters fits the specifications described by Daniel to a tee. The fulfillment of prophecy doesn’t stop there. In Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years before this event, the Messianic prophecy involves how the King will come: “lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Psalms 118:25-26, another Messianic prophecy, is fulfilled by the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna, hosanna.”

The fulfillment of these prophecies is profound because the statistical probability of Jesus fulfilling even one is quite remarkable, but there are three in this one event. During the whole week, prophecy after prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus, which, is a mathematical impossibility, giving solid evidence for the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.

Another reason why this day is so profound is the way that Jesus comes: “on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” His entrance in this way emphasized His humility, as one who came to bring peace not the sword, as a humble servant rather than a conquering king.  While Jesus deserved all the honor given to any earthly king and exceedingly more, He rejected this sort of reception and chose a less “showy” sort of display of His royalty. He did allow them to worship Him, but it is clear that He allows this because His “time had come.”This praise especially would be the catalyst that caused the Pharisees and religious leaders to finally arrest Him, thus fulfilling more prophecy. Everything about this day was calculated and planned by God to fulfill His ultimate plan of redemption.

A final thought to consider as you reflect on this day: only a few days from this one, the crowds will be shouting a different sort of message: “crucify, crucify.” How could this happen? I think it is because they didn’t know Jesus as Lord. They praised Him because of what they “thought” He was – a king who would set them free from Roman oppression But He never promised that, and in fact, told them that was not His plan! (Luke 19:11-12)

I guess the question for you and I is, do we “really” KNOW Him as Lord? As you approach this week, can you join in the cry, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and really mean it? Although “hosanna” may sound like a declaration of praise, it is actually a cry for salvation. It essentially means, “please, save us.” As the people shouted this, they wanted “salvation” from the Romans, but what Jesus’ would bring is something so much more wonderful. His sacrifice a few days from now would give them salvation for eternity, but they didn’t understand. They wanted salvation on their terms rather than trusting in the God who had always been eager to “save.” Do you understand who He is or do you want Jesus on your own terms?

If you do understand why He came, then this day should be a day of rejoicing over the reality of who He is, a king to be worshipped, in fact, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS! (Phil. 2:10-11)

Ask God to help you gain a deeper understand of Jesus’ deity. He came to this earth to live as a man, but make no mistake, HE was no man! He was and is the LORD OF ALL!

*For the sake of historical accuracy, I need to state that the chronology of the events of this week are up for debate. First, the gospel writers did not necessarily write everything in pure chronological order. The Roman and Jewish calendars differed quite a bit, so this could account for differences in the timetable among writers and historians. Some believe the triumphal entry actually happened on Monday while others hold to the traditional Sunday entry. If it is on Monday, then the other days would also have a slightly different focus, particularly Wednesday. From Thursday on, there is little debate. In the end, being overly dogmatic about the chronology of the events of this week doesn’t serve any practical purpose. For the sake of consistency and clarity, this devotion sticks with the traditional calendar but acknowledges that there are other plausible views on this timetable.

Here is an interesting video put out by Crossway Media with some extra historical facts about what was happening on this day – A.D. 33

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A Perfect Day

Sunday, January 16th, the day that I got to see my only daughter get married, will go down in my memory as a “perfect day”! In fact, I have described it as a dream, a fairytale, the best day ever…She wore a beautiful white dress; they exchanged heart-felt vows, pledging their love to each other in a truly genuine ceremony that honored God and provided a small glimpse of the wonder of this idea of “two becoming one”. However, we all know that there is no such thing as “perfect” on this side of heaven. In fact, there were numerous little things that did not go “perfectly” that day, but I didn’t notice, or rather I noticed that they did not matter! As a person who struggles often with agonizing over the little things that go wrong, the question is, how was I able to see this day as “flawless”?

I can claim this for two reasons: The first is PRAYER. You see, I had numerous friends, family and other brothers and sisters in Christ praying for the details, the dynamics, and the actual event, and I am 100% sure that this is THE reason why things came together, and I was able to enjoy the moments. There is no way I would have made it without the prayers, support and helping hands that were provided to make this day “perfect”!

The second reason is ENCOURAGEMENT. Besides prayer, I am profoundly moved by the number of texts and words of encouragement that were sent my way. I have always heard that “joy shared increases” and that is exactly what happened. As people shared in the experience, it made the day all the more sweet! I literally smiled the whole day, even my tears were happy! As I reflect on this day, I am forever grateful for the prayers and people who helped make this day special for our family, but I am most of all thankful to God who “has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Almost every experience we go through has the potential to teach us something, and this wedding extravaganza is no different. In fact, there are a couple of significant life lessons I learned that I plan to put into action moving forward.

Lesson One: The power of praying for others can not be understated! In James chapter 5, this Biblical truth is clearly stated: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up… The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

As I write this blog, I have a 38 year old nephew, Zach Adams, who is fighting for his life at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. (please pray for his complete healing). There are believers all over the world praying for him. These prayers for his healing are offered by faith out of obedience to God, but they are also providing strength for his family in this very difficult time. Whether we are in a time of great trials or a time of wonderful celebration, the prayers of fellow believers are powerful and life-giving. This wedding experience reminded me once again that prayer is key, so I am more committed than ever to praying earnest, specific prayers for others because I know it works!!

Lesson Two: Intentional encouragement strengthens us exponentially. The writer of Hebrews brings this to light: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

When we as believers truly make encouragement a habit, it makes a significant difference in others’ experience of hope and joy. Whether someone is going through the worst of times or the best of times, the power of a word of encouragement or a tangible act of kindness makes the load lighter and/or brighter. God knew we would need each other which is why he modeled life in community and why he birthed the church. Just this one experience of a simple wedding truly reignited my belief in the importance of a community of believers. I felt hopeful as the day drew nearer because of the encouragement, and on the actual day, I felt a heightened sense of joy because of those who shared it with me! In the same way, the grief shared in a recent loss gave us strength to carry on. So whether it is during happy times or sad times, encouragement has power to lift the soul. My experience during this season has made me more committed than ever to live a life of intentionality. To take time out of my often “too busy” schedule to encourage and love on others who are going through some life event because I know what a difference it makes!

The wedding was “perfect”! . But not because all went down without a hitch but rather because of the prayers, encouragement, support and love of others in the body of Christ. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Col. 3:14

PRAY FOR ZACH – take a look at these prayer bracelets https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfbuTXIjk8X9EfptYHh-PrEQFUIUU3uhQKeSKJ6tZTsQG-4zw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2zDeYXGBu1m4tG8SAb9BY9y13O_NB3M4RWBYkBgkA6nQx6VrIvffmHO4c

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Dress for Success in 2022

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Have you ever felt underdressed for an event? You know you walk into what you thought was a casual affair and everyone is decked out in more formal attire and you just feel out of place? Or, what about not wearing a coat when the temperature is colder than expected? Being underdressed for certain occasions is not really a big deal, but what is a big deal is not being properly “dressed” for battle. If a soldier goes into battle with just civilian clothes on, he is not only “underdressed” but he is ill equipped. The apparel he wears is essential for his protection and ultimately, his success. But, you may be thinking this is all well and good for the soldier, but for the everyday person, the type of clothing we wear won’t make or break our daily life. But, I am here to suggest that what we wear does make a difference! In fact, we are in a battle every single day and what we wear to this fight is not only important, it is critical for whether we win or lose!

As I write this blog, I am coming off of a season where I was walking into a battle daily. Because of my years as a Christ follower, this should have been a piece of cake for me. I know God’s word; I teach God’s word; I have experienced the faithfulness of God, and I have years of “battle-fighting” under my belt, so nothing should have been a surprise or too much of a struggle. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I was NOT winning the daily challenges. I had days where I felt completely overwhelmed with the day to day decisions and other days where I couldn’t shake feelings of anxiety and depression. What had happened to me? I am usually a positive person, a person who lives in the confidence of who God is, but this was not how I was living. As you might guess, this battle I am speaking of was being fought entirely in my mind as I faced an unseen enemy, the father of lies who was throwing out all of the stops to stir up fear, discouragement, guilt, defeat…in me like I have never experienced! During this time, I had numerous friends speak truth to me, encourage and pray for me, but I simply couldn’t seem to crawl out of this darkness I was in. Until one day, it all became clear. 

The struggle I faced has been faced by Christians throughout the centuries and will continue to be a part of our earthly experience until Jesus returns. But thankfully, In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul gives a very clear plan for how to handle this inevitable reality. 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 

This  passage is packed with powerful truths that can literally change our daily struggles to victories, but the focus for today, on the first day of 2022, is the point that I was missing, In order to win the daily battles, the key word is WHOLE armor of God. Paul mentions “whole”  twice to emphasize that we will NOT be able to “stand up” against the “devil’s schemes” if we are underdressed! This was my issue. I had been trying to walk through the season with only part of the armor on and I was simply unprotected. Each part of the armor described by Paul is there to protect the different areas where satan will attack. God has literally given us an arsenal to help us be prepared and equipped. Truth, righteousness, salvation, faith and the Word of God are all necessary if we are going to be successful in this fight!

I am guessing many of you can relate to the struggle I was in, and like me, you are ready for 2022 to be different. The question is: Where do we start? We begin with an acknowledgment that we can not do this alone. Our strength comes from the Lord, and it is His armor not our own that will get us safely through the spiritual war we are in! We then need to suit up by committing everything to the Lord through prayer. In fact, we need to see God as our commander who is ready to meet with us daily to give us the plan of action. Let’s don’t take another step without first consulting our leader!

So, this is how we will get through the days ahead, first, on our knees, and then we can “stand firm”. So, don’t be stressed in 2022!

Success is all in the way you dress! 

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Week 2 – The GOOD NEWS

Joy. This short, simple word printed on Christmas cards, ornaments, plaques, shirts, plates and almost anything Christmas is possibly the most well-known of all Christmas “words”. Despite its simplicity, the word is anything but simple. Most people equate Joy with happiness, but in truth, joy is much deeper than that. Joy comes from the Greek word “chara” meaning a feeling of inner gladness. In other words, happiness despite what might be happening around us! 

With this definition in mind, isn’t JOY exactly what we need today? If we look around at our world, there are so many circumstances that can make us feel “unhappy”. For many, the holidays themselves are a time of loneliness or deep sadness. The loss of a loved one, financial distress, broken relationships, health worries… can make for a very joyless season. On top of personal melancholy, the state of our country and fear of the future can make us downright depressed!

We need a deep-down JOY, and this is actually what Christmas is all about. Let’s consider the “first’ Christmas to understand this word more fully.

Read Luke 2: 8-20

Jesus’ birth came after a time of silence in the Jewish nation. God had not spoken for 400 years. His last words were spoken through the prophet Malachai in approximately 430 B.C. and so while many had begun to “forget” about God, the devout continued to study the scriptures waiting patiently for God’s promise to be fulfilled. And one starry night in the little town of Bethlehem, the promise came to fruition. The shepherds were the first to learn of the great event proclaimed by angels: 

““I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” 

The good news was that God was no longer silent. The good news was that God had come to earth to reveal himself to man, the long awaited Messiah had finally come: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the [a]virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14) The Good News was that man now had direct access to God through Jesus Christ. The savior would rescue, redeem and restore man’s relationship with God. And for all who trusted in Him, forgiveness, freedom and eternal life would be their destiny. This message was not just for the shepherds or the Jewish people; it was a message for all mankind. The reality of a savior who would set people free from the bondage of sin, remove their guilt once and for all and reunite them with the Father for all eternity is not just good news, it is the BEST NEWS IN THE WORLD. 

This is, indeed, a reason for GREAT JOY! 

No matter what you are experiencing this Christmas season, let the truth about what Jesus’ birth means cause you to “celebrate”! Joy is not based on our circumstances on the outside but rather on what is inside of us. Trust Christ; accept His sacrifice; claim His power and find true JOY! 

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Day 3 – The Power of Love

All around the world, the universal language is love. Every tribe, race, religion, culture, and people group “speak” this language. The human heart yearns for love more than any other thing. The theme of love is the message of countless songs, poems, plays, films, books, and artwork because love is the deepest desire of all human beings. In fact, if someone feels unloved or has trouble or loss in this area, it is almost incapacitating. Grief is most often tied to the loss of love and it can be a dark place. But, while loss of love can be truly crippling, finding love is a balm for the soul! If Christmas is about anything, it is about LOVE. It is about the GREATEST LOVE of all. Understanding the message of love represented through Christ’s coming to earth can turn a person’s world around. The powerful truth that God’s love is personal and free to all who will receive it has a restorative quality that nothing on this earth can match. In other words, an encounter with God’s love can mend a broken heart and satisfy a lonely soul. ONLY GOD’S LOVE breaks down walls, loosens chains and realigns a fractured identity.

The apostle John describes exactly what this love looks like:

God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love — not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (I John 4:9-10)

When you think about baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the true picture you should be focusing on is grown-up Jesus on the cross. He didn’t arrive on earth just to form a small group, teach about the kingdom of God, make the lame walk and give sight to the blind, He actually came here to die. God’s love became visible through the death of Christ on the cross. Human love is wonderful but it can never take the place of divine love. God’s love saves us! It saves us emotionally, physically and eternally!

During this Christmas season, turn your eyes toward the reality of this amazing love and let it wash over you. The reality that you are wanted; you are accepted; you are cherished; you are LOVED!

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Day 1 – What is Advent? 

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December 1st has in many ways marked the been the beginning of the Christmas season in our home. One of our favorite traditions as a family when my kids were growing up was celebrating advent. Typically, we would get an advent calendar with little windows with verses behind them that we would open each day beginning on December 1 and ending on December 25. Through the years we added and/or tried different other advent activities to add to our celebration, but the “countdown” to Christmas day, Jesus’ birthday, was always an aspect that we didn’t miss. In many churches, Advent is a significant part of the Christmas tradition, but just like everything else, the secular world has also embraced this historically spiritual aspect of the Christmas season. Just a quick google search will take you to numerous different “advent” calendars or countdowns that have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Yet, sadly, many Christians (including me) also struggle to truly embrace the beauty and wonder of this glorious season because of busyness. But, this year, a series of significant events have led me to recommit myself to slowing down and reflecting on all that this season means. So, for the next 25 days, join me in a daily devotional journey as we reflect and make Christ the center of our Christmas season!

Reflection: The word advent means arrival but, specifically, it is a reference to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world. The “Advent season” usually starts four weeks before Christmas and concludes with the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day. While many people celebrate Christmas with the buying of gifts and endless activities, the concept of advent is centered around slowing down and focusing in on the real reason for the season. The “advent” of the Messiah simply means that the God of the universe came to earth to show us the way back to him for one reason – LOVE! So this is where we begin. 

John 3:16-17 – “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.


Digging Deeper: Read I John 4:7- 5:4 – Identify all of the aspects of God’s love mentioned here. What truth from this passage can you apply to your life this holiday season?

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Don’t miss the blessings!

As I sit here on Thanksgiving 2021, a year and half into the pandemic, I can’t help but be thankful for this scourge that has rocked our world for the past 18 months. I know that many of us recognize that the pandemic has brought some good into our world, yet finding the good in the dark cloud has not always been easy. This all changed for me, though, in an unexpected way this past week. On Sunday, November 14, we lost my father-in-law, Big O as he’s fondly referred to by his family, which has left a huge hole in our family. The morning after learning of his passing was filled with tears and sadness over the loss of this special man, but I also experienced another surprising feeling – gratitude!

You see, the pandemic created a new normal for my husband and I. That new normal was to take a weekly trip to visit his parents to check on them, buy groceries, and just spend time. Since they couldn’t leave due to their age and health situation, they required some attention. The trip typically took several hours a week between the 2 to 3 hour drive time and the visit, but the time spent with them was precious and worth it all. You really get to know people when you just sit with them consistently and regularly, when you ask questions and you listen, when you buy food and learn their routine. As I grieve the loss of this dear man, I am SO THANKFUL for the time that I got to spend with him and can truly see the silver lining in this dark cloud that has hung over the world. The pandemic “forced” us to change our schedule and be present and oh am I so grateful!

As I ponder what this year and half has meant, I recognize that I am a different person because of these weekly visits. What I learned through this experience is that there are no shortcuts to building relationships. It takes time, it takes sacrifice, it takes blood sweat and tears even sometimes, but the rewards from this type of consistent investment, cannot be overstated. In many ways, we were “doing life” with them much like a small group experience. We would share stories, jokes, prayer requests, and what the Lord was teaching us. With each visit, my fondness and connection to them grew and this was due to the regularity of our time together. In many ways, each week was an adventure because there were new stories to hear, new conversations to enjoy and new things to learn. Over and over again nuggets of wisdom came my way as I listened to their advice and watched the intentional way that they lived. I am not the same person I was a year and a half ago because these weekly visits refined me and helped define for me what matters most in life: Loving and being loved. While I always loved them, doing life with them deepened my admiration and filled my soul with something beautiful and the lessons learned are truly priceless.

It’s still difficult to call the pandemic a blessing, but if it hadn’t happened, I would not have made the weekly visits, and I would have missed so so much! My prayer for all those who are reading is to not miss the opportunities that come your way this holiday season and every season! Don’t underestimate the power of community. Listen to the stories, spend time focusing on people not things, and BE THANKFUL no matter what the circumstance!!

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18)

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Time Management

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Time is a funny thing. You all know what I mean. You are sitting in a meeting, a doctor’s waiting room, a line of traffic, a boring desk job and the clock moves at a snail’s pace, and you feel like you have been there “forever”! Then, on other occasions you are sitting at the beach, at a family dinner, or some long-awaited event and in the blink of an eye it is over! When you are young you can’t wait to grow up and time feels so slow; when you are older, you want time to slow down and the birthdays to stop coming so fast! When you have little kids, they seem to grow up so fast, but once they are grown and gone, the days slow down as you look forward to seeing them again. Fast, slow, slow, fast, time is a funny thing.

A few things are true about time. The first is that unlike money, no one is making more time. This means we all have exactly how much time the Lord has given us to live. 24 hours, (1,440 minutes) a day. Also, we can’t get time back. It’s not like returning an item to the store and getting our refund. Once spent, time is gone. Another important aspect to time is that we have zero control over how much we have or the speed in which time seems to move; however, we DO have control over how we spend it!

This leads to an important truth about time; intentionality is key. I have heard many times that “if you don’t tell your time where to go, it will tell you”. For me, and I am sure many of you, you often get to the end of the day or week and wonder, where did the time go? What did I do? Being intentional with time means that you plan how you will spend your days. Now for a spontaneous, free spirit like me, this somewhat goes against my nature. I have for years lived a little more by the philosophy of “what do I feel like doing today?” Of course, work days are clear, but what about summer, weekends….Well, it has taken me a while to figure this out, but I have discovered that when I am intentional with my time, I find I am more fruitful and more fulfilled.

All of this musing, leads to a much more important question. What does God say about time? On the one hand, He is an advocate for planning, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? ” Luke 14:28. The writer Proverbs says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” (Prov. 21:5) and in Ephesians Paul writes: 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16). I think it is safe to say that planning is important to God.

However, God’s teaching on time is more complicated than that because, of course, He is God and as the maker of time, He sees time differently. Peter writes, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” God’s view on time can not be defined in human terms.

In Matthew 6 Jesus’ teaches about trusting God for all our needs, wrapping up his message with an important truth: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33) Jesus is making an important point here: prioritize me first, and don’t worry about anything else. While this message seems to be about material needs, I think it also applies to our time.

Seeking God first is really the secret to time management for the believer, and Jesus is our model for this. In Mark chapter 1, we read after a night of healing and miracles in Capernaum, Jesus’ seeks the Father:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”  And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (Mark 1:35-38)

There is so much to learn here in this short passage, but as I think about my time, the message for me is to not waste another day making my own plans without starting first with a conversation with the Maker of time. If this is the way Jesus lived His life, then I have no other option. I don’t want to get to the end of the day wondering where the time went and whether I accomplished anything of eternal value. I only have so much time to make an impact on this world for Christ, so I don’t have time to squander moments on unnecessary things. In my humanness, there is no way I will always make the best choice with my time, so if I am serious about living like Jesus, I need to follow His lead and consult the One who has a purpose for my days FIRST before anything else! Now, I am not suggesting that we throw out all of our planners and just go with the flow, but just like Jesus, may we be able to let God manage our time and be ready to “go on to the next towns..” knowing this “is why” we are here!

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Don’t Let Go

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Ever since Elsa danced into our lives in Disney’s hit Frozen, people have been singing the song, “let it go”. How many times have you heard you need to “let go of your bitterness”, “let go of your fear, let go of your insecurities, let go of your need to control….. The challenge to “let go” is one that is a common encouragement for Christ followers, but why do we need to “let go” of some things? The simple truth is when we hang on to things like past hurts, worries about the future, lies about our significance…. our emotions and attitudes can become toxic. Like a disease in the body, these things can hang around and cause all sorts of havoc. So, the answer is to give them to Jesus. With open hands we surrender the things that we have been holding onto into the hands of the master. Jesus is strong enough, big enough, powerful enough and In Matthew 11, Jesus spelled out how we are to do this:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Coming to Jesus, resting in His love gives us freedom from our burdens. We “let go” of the things that are heavy on us by transferring them to Jesus and we experience healing.

But wait! It is easy to see the need for “letting go” but let’s flip the switch. What if I told you that the key to finding rest is to “NOT let go!!” Consider for a minute you are in a lake and have lost your strength, someone throws you a life preserver and says “hang on”. This is clearly a time when you will agree that the answer is to “NOT LET GO.” From a spiritual perspective this concept is crucial. Sometimes in life we have things we need to let go of, but sometimes we have things that are surrounding us. (like the lake) These things can feel unsurmountable. In fact, they are things out of our control and we have only one choice. “Hang on”. You see, Jesus is our life preserver! In deepest valleys and darkest pits, He is our ANCHOR.

The writer of Hebrews explains it this way in his discussion of Jesus: 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (6:19)

Jesus is our HOPE; he is the one we hang onto when life is tough, when things are simply too much for us to handle! This sounds good in theory but how do we do it? We do it by fixing our eyes (and our hearts) on him. To get practical, let’s take a look at a man who found himself surrounded by “water”.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)

This is a great story with lots of wonderful truths, but the main element I want to hone in on is verses 29-30. Jesus told Peter to “come” and Peter got out of the boat and literally walked on water! He was doing fine cruising along on the water as he walked toward Jesus until he looked around and saw the “wind”. As soon as he focused on the wind, he became afraid, but Jesus reached out his hand and caught him and called him out for his doubting. Now, none of us should blame Peter. I mean no one had ever walked on water before, but the key here was that instead of focusing on Jesus, the one who could calm the seas, Peter focused on the storm and in essence, let go of his “life preserver”. Let’s key in on one other important truth here and that is, when Peter began to sink, Jesus “immediately” was there to save Peter. He didn’t leave him alone in his fears and lack of faith; Jesus grabbed hold of Peter and brought him into safety! This is what it means to have Jesus as your savior. He pulls us out of the water and gives us solid ground to stand on! His purpose on this earth was to carry out the greatest rescue mission ever; all we have to do is grab his hand!

When we look around us, it’s easy to get discouraged by the “wind and waves” of life! Maybe you find yourself in an impossible situation and feel helpless and without hope. Maybe you are in a place where you are surrounded by circumstances and situations where you feel out of control! Maybe you feel afraid because you are focusing on the “wind and waves” and you are starting to sink! Maybe it is time for you to grab onto Jesus or rather let him grab onto you, and just “DON’T LET GO”!

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Day Eight: Easter Sunday-April 4, 2021

Read Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1:1-11

Today, all over the world, people are celebrating the greatest comeback story ever told – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Yet, this is not a story. It was a real event that literally changed the course of history and began a movement that has transformed the lives of billions of people during the past 2000 years. Without the resurrection, we have the story of great teacher who was falsely accused, and ended up dying on a cross. With the resurrection, He solidifies His teaching that He was not just a great teacher. You see, on numerous occasions, Jesus claimed to be God. (Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, John 8:24, 28)  The Messianic title Son of Man and the words “I am” were known by all of the Jews as titles reserved for God Himself, so on the day when He rose from the grave, He proved this once and for all! No one has ever raised from the dead, it is not natural. Resurrection from the dead is a supernatural occurrence and reveals that Jesus is truly who He said He was. Not a great teacher, who did a lot of great miracles and died as a sacrifice, but THE RISEN LORD!  Because of the resurrection, we who believe in His name will also not die but will have everlasting life! (John 3:16)

While a resurrection from the dead can not be scientifically proven, if you put the case on trial, the evidence is so overwhelming that no one who gives it an honest investigation can walk away and deny its validity. In order to say that the resurrection did not happen, a person would have to deny evidence that is beyond explanation any other way. Thousands of skeptics have tried to disprove this event, and all who were honest in their evaluation of the evidence, came to one conclusion: It happened. When you come to this verdict, you have no other choice but to put your faith in Jesus as God and this in turn changes everything! You read His teaching differently, knowing that everything Jesus taught was God’s instruction for man. You desire to obey, knowing that what He did – dying on the cross for you – was done out of a great love for His creation. See, the reality of the resurrection makes everything make sense! 

All four gospel writers record the resurrection. Each of the writers gives the details of this event from different angles, but there is no debate on whether it happened or not! The Bible and history learned from extra-Biblical literature makes the case for the resurrection rock solid. First, consider the disciples. Remember yesterday they were hiding out, afraid to come out in public for fear of arrest, but after this day, they are completely changed. They go from fearful followers to fiery preachers almost overnight. They preach about the resurrection with such confidence that no warnings of beating, imprisonment or death can deter them. You see, something changed them and there is no other logical conclusion except that they must of come face to face with the risen Lord. When you have an encounter with the risen Lord, you are a never the same again! Then, there is Paul. Paul was a zealous persecutor of the early church until one day he meets the risen Lord. His whole life and mission changed on that Damascus road, and He boldly preaches and writes about the reality of the resurrection for the rest of his life. Also, Jesus’ brother, James, who did not believe Jesus was the Son of God before the resurrection, becomes a believer and important leader in the early church! (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Change like we see in these men is not natural. It is only possible because of something supernatural – A man rising from the dead! 

Another important aspect of the resurrection is the empty tomb. Unlike the majority of famous people throughout history, there is no grave to visit for Jesus Christ. A trip to Israel won’t take you there because the tomb was empty!  The Pharisees and religious leaders floated a rumor that the disciples stole the body, but think about it, these men were hiding out in fear just hours before the tomb came up empty. What would have caused them to come out of hiding, fight off a Roman guard and move a giant stone? It is not logical, and also doesn’t explain why almost all of them eventually died a martyr’s death. Why would they die for something they knew was a lie? Additionally, during the days that follow Christ’s resurrection, if they had stolen the body, the Romans would have found it and held it up for all to see. Jesus appeared to over 500 people after His resurrection. The gospels were written while these people were still living, so if the resurrection had not happened, someone would have said so, but that is not what happened. Instead, billions of people  have believed in the resurrection and have changed lives to prove it. Christianity is a movement that has been attacked throughout the past 2000 years, but nothing and no one has been able to stop it because the truth can not be silenced! It happened, and because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this world has never been the same! 

The resurrection was a miracle! The greatest miracle of all time and isn’t that what we are all longing for? A miracle? We want them to find a cure for this “silent enemy” which has attacked our lives. We are in the fight of our lives as we race for a cure, a vaccine, answers. We want our lives back, our jobs back, our peace back! This war we are in feels relentless and we wonder if we will ever win! But, wait, VICTORY is what this day represents! This one event was a game changer ending satan’s plans once and for all! Peter’s words are true: “God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24). Death had no hold over Him, and it has no power over us who believe anymore. In fact, the power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us through the Holy Spirit! “ The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” Rom. 8:11. Because of the Spirit’s power, we can overcome sin’s grip on us. As we daily yield our lives to Him, we can experience victory on a daily basis!! I pray that we can truly understand the truth of what the power of the resurrection means! This prayer from the apostle Paul is my prayer for us as we face this pandemic: 

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Let’s rejoice; let’s celebrate; He is ALIVE and His Life gives us both abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven!

To God be the Glory; Great things He Has Done!

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Holy Week: Day Seven – April 3

Read:  Matthew 27:59-66; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42

Photo by David Besh on Pexels.com

Holy Saturday is the seventh day of the Holy Week and many see it as the day that Jesus “rested” from His work. The last phrase uttered by Jesus on the cross was “it is finished”! His work on earth was indeed finished as His plan to “give His life as a ransom for many” was complete! Because His work was completed on the cross, “in Him[we also] have been made complete” as the apostle Paul explains in Col. 2:10.

From the scripture standpoint, there is very little recorded about this day. The burial probably happened right at the end of Friday before the Sabbath which began after sundown. Typically, Romans were in charge of the body even after death, and their custom was to leave the body of a criminal on the cross for days to rot and be eaten by wild animals to serve as a reminder to others of what happens when a person goes against the Roman government. The Jews, however, didn’t want any bodies left up during Sabbath and especially during the season of Passover, so they had asked Pilate to have them removed. After Jesus was confirmed dead, Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, both Pharisees and secret disciples of Jesus, (John 19:38) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, in order to give Him a proper burial. It’s remarkable that the fate of even the executed corpse was in Pilate’s hands. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead according to Mark 15:44 because usually, crucifixion was a long, agonizing death, yet Jesus was dead in a few hours. His death was confirmed, however, by careful examination of eyewitnesses (John 19:31-36), and Pilate gave his permission.  No doubt, the removal of Jesus’ body was a physical and emotional experience for Joseph and Nicodemus. The Bible says that they wrapped the body in strips of linen with seventy five pounds of spices (myrrh and aloe) which was the burial custom of the Jews. Before they could wrap the body, it would need to be prepared. This means that all of the foreign matter would have to be removed from the body, and then it would be washed. Preparing the bloodied and bruised body of Jesus knowing He was innocent must have been difficult for these men who didn’t follow Christ openly while He was alive. Yet, they are the ones who take care of his body, and the disciples, who were always by His side during His earthly ministry were no where to be found. I daresay that there were other Pharisees who believed in Jesus in secret – and many more will definitely believe after tomorrow!

Jesus’ burial is an important part of the gospel. (I Cor. 15:3-4) References to His death, burial and resurrection will be used over and over by the disciples in the coming days. The fact that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb is a fulfillment of prophecy: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) The burial fulfills several predictions that Jesus made about Himself: (Matt. 12:40, 16:21, Mark 9:31, 10:33-34, John 2:19) His burial proves His death. Some religions and people who do not believe in the resurrection claim that Jesus didn’t really die but actually survived the crucifixion. A Roman crucifixion was not survivable but beyond that Pilate would never have given permission for His body to be taken unless he was certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was truly dead. Yes, Jesus died physically and His burial provides further proof.

But before we look any further into the events of this day,  let’s be clear about about what Jesus was doing on this day! He is not just wrapped in the linen cloth that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Him in, sleeping! The gospel writer Luke describes Jesus’ final moments on the cross like this: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23: 46). This particular passage contains some important information. First, it solidifies that while Jesus’ physical body died on the cross, His spirit was very much alive! In fact, His spirit was committed into the hand of the Father which is exactly what happens when Christians die. The spirit of a person goes on living in the presence of God; absent from the body; present with the Lord ( II Cor. 5:8). Another important proof that Jesus’ spirit is still alive is found in His conversation with the thief on the cross. Jesus tells this man who recognizes that Jesus is NOT just a man in Luke 23:43, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, Jesus’ work of redemption was finished on the cross, and now He awaits the Big Day!

Behind the scenes, an event that we do know happened on this day is recorded in Matthew 27:62-66. The chief priests and Pharisees pay another visit to Pilate asking for him to secure the tomb because Jesus had said that after three days He would rise, and they were worried that the disciples would steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. You have to wonder what Pilate was thinking about this desperate group of religious leaders who couldn’t seem to be satisfied by anything! Pilate tells them you have a guard “go make it secure”. Not only did they set a guard but they also sealed the tomb. A quick note about the Roman guard and seal. The Roman guard was sixteen men strong governed by very strict rules. Each member covered six square feet of space. There was no sitting, leaning or sleeping allowed. If this were to happen, the guard would be beaten and burned in all his clothes and the whole unit would also be killed because of the one guard’s failings. The Roman seal placed over the tomb authenticated that the tomb was occupied and Rome stood behind the seal. All of these precautions should have given confidence to the religious leaders that this menace, Jesus, would not bother them anymore! Of course, it is almost Sunday and well, they will discover that nothing can hold Jesus down!

What were the disciples doing on this day? Mark 14:50 tells us that when Jesus was arrested, ”they all left him and fled.” In John we read that they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of being arrested. Mark indicates in 16:10 that they were mourning and weeping. All of this tells us that disciples were not walking around Jerusalem or going with life as usual. They were grieving, afraid and keeping themselves hidden for fear of being arrested because of their connections with Jesus. You can imagine their sadness. This incredible teacher that they had just spent the last three years was just killed. They had believed that He was the one who was the promised Messiah but now He is gone. Although He had told them over and over again what was going to happen (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31), they didn’t really understand it. Based on all of the times that Jesus had told Him that He would have to suffer and die but would then come back to life, you would think they would be excited, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting. However, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that these disciples were awaiting His resurrection. In fact, the disciples’ fear and lack of boldness after Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the reasons that we know the resurrection was real! Their radical change after the events of Sunday is a pivotal point in history!

As disciples of Jesus, what are you doing today? Since we have the benefit of scripture to follow, we should be living in anticipation. Much like advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, we should be eagerly awaiting the events that will come tomorrow, with the faith and excitement of a little child! Additionally, we can rejoice and ponder the reality of what yesterday means. His death fulfilled the wrath of a Holy God for our sins. His blood poured out offers us forgiveness once and for all. His righteousness becomes our righteousness: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” II Cor. 5:21) Today’s focus should be gratitude! Despite living in this time of uncertainty, there are many things we can be certain of because of what He accomplished on the cross! What He did for us should cause us to offer up prayers of thankfulness and praise! We have been given an amazing gift, even though we don’t deserve it! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Today is a great day to give thanks!

The time for great celebration is just hours away! 

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Holy Week: Day Six – April 2

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 23, John 18-19

Good Friday is the day that is traditionally set aside to remember Christ’s crucifixion. While some may wonder why this is a “celebration” , a deeper look at not just what happened but what it all meant allows us to fully reflect on this truly Holy Day that is the climax of Christ’s life and central to Christianity.

This day actually begins early in the morning. To be more accurate, Jesus never sleeps. After spending some very intimate time with His disciples in the upper room for the Passover meal last evening, Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. A study of Christ’s life shows that He regularly prayed, but this prayer was different. It was the most heart wrenching prayer He has prayed thus far. In His humanity, He is in mental anguish over what is about to happen. The suffering that He is about to endure is known to Him and He cries out to God:“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. … And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44) This cup that Jesus speaks of is the cup of judgement. The physical suffering will be nothing compared to the great agony of having the Father turn His back on Him as He is judged for the sins of all mankind! He knows this is required, but in His humanness He must wrestle for a time with this. In the end of course, He submits to the Father’s will, a beautiful example of surrender!

The next event is the betrayal of Judas, as he brings the religious leaders to arrest Jesus. While Judas’ betrayal is expected and even fulfills prophecy, the experience of being betrayed by someone close to you couldn’t have been easy. Besides Judas’ betrayal, He will experience the denial of Peter, one of His closest friends. When we experience painful relationship situations, let us remember that our Lord understands and knows the pain of betrayal, abandonment and rejection! Also remember that both Judas and Peter suffer as well, Judas bitterly faces the reality of his actions and Peter weeps over the depth of his sinful choices. While Judas’ remorse leads him to hang himself, Peter’s pain leads Him to repentance and ultimately, restoration, showing us that sinful actions will always lead us somewhere. Some people choose to become paralyzed, despondent and miserable as they look at their failures and stay there falling into a deeper hole of bitterness, anger and brokenness, but others, like Peter, allow the experience of failure to lead them to admit their sin and receive the forgiveness that Christ offers!

The events that occur next are a series of informal and “formal” religious trials, three to be exact, but none of these trials follow the standard rules set up by the Jews for a “criminal”. They provide no evidence in Jesus’ favor which would be the regular protocol despite the numerous miracles He has performed in front of them. Instead they twist His words, make up evidence and even flat out lie in order to support their bogus claims against Him. Along with this sham of a trial, they also verbally abuse Him, mock Him, blaspheme against Him and beat Him. They knew He was guilty of nothing, yet they were determined to get rid of Him because of their own pride and self-centeredness. Because they are not allowed to actually execute anyone, they take Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and then to Herod. Despite all of their accusations, Pilate finds Jesus innocent as does Herod.

Pilate is interesting because history tells us that he was an evil ruler who regularly showed no mercy to the accused, but according to the gospel writers, he tries to release Jesus, finding nothing worthy of death. This is quite remarkable. A man who wasn’t religious at all is more merciful than those who claim to be religious! Unfortunately, this is sometimes true in our world today, people who claim to be Christians show less mercy to people they dislike than the irreligious! As some who are far from God have said, “I have no problem with Jesus, it is the Christians that I don’t like”.  Let’s never be guilty of showing less mercy than the lost world! 

Pilate tries to appease the Jewish leaders by ordering Jesus to endure a brutal Roman scourging, but he is unable to convince the Jewish leaders to accept his innocent verdict and in the end succumbs to their demand to have Jesus executed. These corrupt leaders even incite the crowds to cry “crucify him, crucify him” in a frenzied roar thus forcing Pilate to give in. Pilate isn’t innocent of Jesus’ blood, but Jesus himself tells Pilate, “you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)  The truth that this quote clearly reveals is that Pilate, Herod and the religious leaders had no real power over Jesus’ fate despite what it may seem. In fact, Jesus has already revealed this in an earlier teaching when He told the disciples,” I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). These leaders will definitely be held accountable, but don’t believe for one moment that they were in control! God allowed all of this to carry out the greatest rescue mission ever!

The climax of this real drama happens next as Jesus goes to the Place of the Skull called Golgotha to be crucified! The gospel writers don’t go into depth about what the crucifixion was like because everyone during that day understood the brutality and torture of a Roman crucifixion. Designed to produce a slow and unimaginably painful death, the crucifixion was one of the most humiliating and horrific forms of execution to ever be used by any civilization. This is what our God endured for us! While on the cross, Jesus speaks very few words, but what He does say is monumental. The most incredible are the words, “Father  forgive them, for they know not what they do.” On the cross, in incomprehensible pain, Jesus prays for His executioners! He intercedes on their behalf which while this is hard to imagine for us; it is precisely why He is there! He came to die for the sin of ALL mankind! Sin put Him on the cross, but what keeps Him there is LOVE.

The LOVE displayed on the cross this day in 33AD is why this day is called GOOD FRIDAY! You see, justice is a concept we all understand.  The Jews knew this. For 1000’s of years they had been offering sacrifices for breaking the laws because sin demands payment. In all cultures through the ages people have created systems for how crimes are paid for. We all know this. When someone breaks a law, a consequence must follow. When someone owes a debt, it must be paid. We all believe that no one should get away with a crime, there must be justice. Sin is the great crime that we have all committed. Sin against a Holy God is a debt that must be paid! The message of the cross is that  instead of God demanding us to pay this debt, He does it Himself. He leaves heaven, He humbles Himself to become like us; He gives up the glory of heaven to experience temptation, loneliness, rejection, grief, and unfathomable pain to take our place. Someone has to pay and He willingly does this for us! Is there any greater example of love than this,“That someone lay His life down for his friends”!

Good Friday means that for all of us who accept Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, we are rescued from the prison of our own sin and are debt free! This is the freedom we really long for, and this is the freedom we have because of Jesus!  This is really GOOD NEWS!

The truth is: IT REALLY IS A GOOD, GOOD FRIDAY! 

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Holy Week: Day Five – April 1, 2021

Read Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–30, John 13:1-20

Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as some refer to it, is the day that Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples. This event is most often called the Last Supper and is the event that instituted the Christian sacrament of Communion. Many churches have a special communion service on this day to commemorate this event. At this meal, Jesus reiterates His purpose using visual symbols that would be central to the church that was about to be born. At this meal, Jesus also predicts Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and teaches about true greatness. After the meal, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane where he is arrested by the religious leaders and carried off to begin the longest night of His life.

At the beginning of the day, Jesus sends His disciples, only Peter and John, to prepare the Passover meal. A couple of quick points here is that the way Jesus does this indicates that He knew the Jewish leaders were about to come for Him, so He needed the preparation and place of the meal to be secretive to avoid arrest before the meal was done. By sending only Peter and John, He kept the location of the meal secret from Judas who was looking for a quiet place, away from the crowds, to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders. Another reason for only sending Peter and John is that only two people were allowed to go to the killing of the lamb because of the law and for practical reasons. Based on historical documents, there were 1000’s upon 1000’s of lambs slaughtered during a two hour window, so as you can imagine space was limited!

The process by which they would have prepared the Passover would have gone something like this: Peter and John would purchase an approved lamb and take it to the temple to be slain. They would then go to the place where it would be held and roast the lamb and make sure all was ready for the meal.  In the Jewish calendar, a new day began at nightfall, so Wednesday nightfall to Thursday nightfall was the day of preparation for the Passover meal. The Passover meal itself included: 1) Roasted Lamb  2) Bitter Herbs  3) Unleavened Bread  4) Fruit Sauce  5) Four cups of Wine. The meal would have been shared after sundown that evening (Thursday nightfall to Friday nightfall).

In the original Passover, the blood of the lambs had been applied to the homes of the Israelites in Egypt to protect them from the outpouring of God’s judgment upon the Egyptians (Exodus 11-12). Matthew alone records Jesus telling his disciples that His time is at hand on the morning of the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed. This is a good place to mention that up until this time, Jesus consistently told the disciples that His time had not yet come, but now the time has come. From the place that they would have the Passover meal to the arrest to His eventual crucifixion, God Himself is in control down to the last detail! While He will suffer a horrific death, Jesus’ death is not a result of a series of unfortunate events out of His control. On the contrary, everything is a part of His plan, His plan to save the world!

While we can assume that the actual Passover meal was taken in the traditional way, the reason taking the meal this night was so important was because Jesus needed to use elements from this meal to symbolize what He was about to do and what He wanted them to do in the future to commemorate this event. As He takes the unleavened bread, He holds it up and tells them, this is “my body”. Unleavened bread is used during the Passover because it represents the Israelites leaving Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time for the bread to rise. However, in the gospels, Jesus actually uses leaven to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Bread without leaven actually suggests the idea of something being without hypocrisy- real, genuine.  In John 6:35-51, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life that has come down from heaven and anyone who eats of this bread will live forever…” As Jesus breaks the unleavened bread on this night, He reveals that He is the REAL sacrifice that will be given for all men!

With the cup of wine, He gives new meaning to the covenant that Israel has had with God for all these years. In Israel’s covenant with God, blood has always been required for the remission of sins. The blood of the Passover lamb represented God “saving” the Jews from death and rescuing them from slavery. Now, as Jesus takes the cup, He explains that a new covenant is being established between Israel and God. it represents His blood that will be shed for the forgiveness of sins.  This is a new covenant that He is establishing with Israel. The establishing of a new covenant was prophesied in Jeremiah 33:31-33, and on this night, Jesus announces that this prophecy will be fulfilled as His blood is poured out for all!

As we reflect on the events of the this day, may we truly understand the significance of the practice of communion. May it never get old as we come to the table remembering our Lord as He willingly came to the cross!

While this last meal with the disciples held monumental significance for the disciples and for us as believers today, one very important event that we can’t leave out is detailed in John’s gospel:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 3-17)

This account of Jesus washing the disciples feet just hours before He goes to the cross is almost too much for us to comprehend, the God of the universe stooping down and taking the form of a servant. Of course, this is what the incarnation is all about. God becoming a man, stooping down to become like one of us, so that He could show us what true LOVE looks like and to set an example for how we can live! He could not be more clear! True “greatness” is found in humility and service to others. While most of us have heard this story, I am not sure we truly understand the full significance of this in 1st century AD.  Make no mistake, this was not the action of a typical ruler. Leaders and rulers would NEVER serve their subjects. In fact, all throughout history, this has never been the posture of those in power. This is why this scene and the one that will happen less from 24 hours from now is so remarkable. In Mark 10:45, Jesus defined his purpose: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” but today through washing their feet and tomorrow as He goes to the cross, His purpose is fully illuminated!

Willingly placing ourselves in a position of humility is not the normal way we operate as humans, in fact, our default mode is to strive for “greatness” by pushing our way to the top. We long for significance in the world’s eyes by getting more degrees, a better job, a bigger house, more stuff, or praise from men. Yet, our Lord defined significance through taking up the towel! His example should challenge us, convict us and, ultimately, change us!

If we are followers of Jesus, serving others is not an option. He led the way! We need to understand that life is NOT all about us. In fact, serving is the behavior of a true disciple!

Paul explains it this way:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Tomorrow we will read all about the power of the cross, but today, let’s focus on the Towel!

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Holy Week: Day Four – March 31, 2021

dawn sunset beach woman
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Read Matthew 26:3-16, Mark 13-14, Luke 21:5 – 22:6

Holy Wednesday is referred to by some as spy Wednesday and by others as silent Wednesday. Of all of the days of the Holy week this one has the most varied interpretations. While we can’t be sure of all of the specifics that occurred on this day,  What we do know is that tomorrow Jesus will celebrate the Passover with the disciples and the next day He will go to the cross. With this information, we can surmise a few probable events.

The name Spy Wednesday refers to speculation that this was the day that Judas confers with the chief priests and officers to turn Jesus over to them. We know from previous days’ events that these leaders have been seeking how to arrest Jesus. They are desperate to get rid of Him and this has all intensified since Jesus’ triumphal entry on Sunday. Remember on this day, Jesus allows the people to worship Him as the Messiah as He enters on the “foal of donkey” just as it was prophesied. He has been teaching every day, mesmerizing the people with His powerful words that reveal His authority. In fact, His teaching is so powerful that people are flocking to Him, “hanging on His every word”. Luke 21:37-38 tells us that “every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him” which leads us to assume that He is continuing to teach on this day as well.

Taking the traditional interpretation of Spy Wednesday, we will take a look at the Jewish leaders plan aided by Judas to arrest Jesus.  One of the interesting aspects of this event is the time; it is the time of the Feast of the Passover. Because of this, Jerusalem is packed with pilgrims who have come to the gather in the city for this all important festival. Many scholars estimate the numbers to be very high, 100’s of 1000’s. This fact alone raises the dramatic tension in the city. Large numbers of people made the potential for a riot much higher and not only were the Jewish leaders aware of the probable results of a public arrest, the Romans were also on high alert knowing that the large number of Jews could mean a possible uprising against them. One of the reasons we can assume that Rome was concerned is because of the presence of Pontius Pilate and Herod in the city.  Typically, these two leaders ruled from Tiberius and Ceasarea, but this week, they are here in Jerusalem for this Passover festival, presumably, to oversee the peace.

With the temple courts packed with enthusiastic pilgrims all seeking to hear the great teacher, the Jewish leaders recognize that arresting Jesus would undoubtedly provoke a riot. They are very aware that Jesus’ popularity will lead to a public protest that would  subsequently draw the Romans into the mix. This is why when Judas comes to offer to expose Jesus privately for 30 pieces of silver, they jump on the chance. Judas, being one of the twelve, is the perfect traitor. He knows the habits of Jesus, he is privy to intimate details of His whereabouts at all times, and as John tells us, Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6)

Despite his love of money, it’s difficult to understand why Judas would do this horrible act. He had walked with Jesus, seen Him do miracle after miracle, heard His mesmerizing teaching, experienced His supernatural compassion but at the end of the day, he never saw Jesus as anything more than a potential way out of Roman oppression; he wanted a “savior” but he had no interest in a Lord. No doubt exists that Judas didn’t really “know” Jesus, not because he didn’t have the chance to, but rather because he didn’t want to! Since it was prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed, some might say that Judas didn’t really have a choice, but make no mistake, he had a choice. God is not a puppet master; He is a loving Father who allows us to choose to love Him. Judas had a choice and he chose to betray the only person who loved him with an everlasting love!

Sadly, this is the state of many who call themselves Christians. They don’t really know Jesus, and this is obvious because of the way they live their lives. They might even choose Jesus as “savior” but trusting Him as Lord does not fit their agenda. Betrayal can happen in many ways. A couple of synonyms for the word betrayal are faithlessness and duplicity. Most of us would never ever see ourselves as a “betrayer” but is it possible that we struggle with faithfulness and loyalty to Christ. Do we always stand up for the truth no matter who we are around? Do we obey even if it means we are left out? Do we act one way when we are around our Christian friends and another way when we aren’t? Do we want Jesus to be our Savior but aren’t willing to give Him the total Lordship of our life? Make a decision to live as a faithful disciple. We always have a choice! 

Let’s take a look at another person in Jesus’ life that made a different choice. We read about her in Matthew’s gospel: 

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Simon the leper was most likely a man whom Jesus had healed who had become a follower.  The woman is Mary of Bethany whose brother was Lazarus. You may remember Mary as the one who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and worship while her sister Martha ran around preparing food (Luke 10:38-42). When Mary anoints Jesus, it is clear that she has insight into who He is and why He has come. Kings and priests were anointed, so anointing Jesus is more than appropriate!  In fact, her anointing His body was a sign of worship proving she saw Jesus as more than just a great teacher! Jesus calls her act a “beautiful thing” and praises her actions, but He acknowledges that this is not just a ceremonial anointing but rather a preparation for His burial! What is quite remarkable is that the disciples don’t get it! They are indignant that she would “waste” this precious perfume that could be used for the poor. This perfume is expensive, so her act cost her something. Yet, when you consider what Christ will be giving up in just two days, this perfume is nothing.

Mary is often referenced as the one who loved extravagantly; she wasn’t worried about what she was giving up, she chose to pour out this costly perfume on Him with complete abandonment and sacrifice. Although He won’t be buried for two more days, this woman’s uninhibited, unashamed act of love serves as a balm for Him as He approaches the day of ultimate suffering. She prepares Him for burial by loving Him greatly!

As we reflect on these final days of Jesus’ life on this earth, consider if you are willing to give up what is “costly” to you to truly worship Him!  This past year has been time of “giving up” a lot of our traditions, routines, and even every day freedoms, yet we still have so much to be thankful for! Some have experienced great losses and are in the middle of loneliness, sadness, pain and deep grief. Yet, because of what will happen two days from now, we can experience hope! In many ways, Mary’s pouring out of the precious perfume is symbolic of the “pouring out” that Jesus will do because of His great love for us! Because of this act, we will gain eternal freedom from sin and death, healing from the pain of this world, riches unimaginable, and everlasting peace! So, doesn’t He deserve our wholehearted worship this season and every season? As we approach Jesus, let us be like Mary; let us choose to love our Lord with the same sort of deep emotion and surrender, giving up our worries, fears, doubts, anxiety, busyness and superficial cares of this world, and focus only on Him! May we truly love Him extravagantly!

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Holy Week: Day Three – March 30, 2021

Read Matthew 21:23—23:39; Mark 11:27—12:44; Luke 20-21

Holy Tuesday is the third day of the Holy Week and while not all churches have services on this day, a study of the gospels shows that Jesus did a lot of teaching this day! There is no doubt that many important conversations happened and that Jesus wanted to solidify some important truths in the minds of His disciples because He knew they would need them once He was gone! A close look at these conversations can also give us direction as disciples living in the 21st century!

As Jesus enters Jerusalem this morning, He heads to the temple.* The temple is where Jesus set up His ministry while in Jerusalem, and this infuriated the religious leaders. The main reason for this is clearly, jealousy. You see, every time that Jesus was around, the people flocked to him. When He healed, they were in awe. When he spoke, they listened. Not only did they listen, but they were enthralled by His teaching. Words and phrases such as “astonished”, “marveled”, “hanging on his every word”….are used by the gospel writers. Over and over again, His actions and words proved His power and authority, yet the Pharisees could not stand it nor accept it. Why? Because He offended them. He was the “stumbling block” that the “builders rejected” (Acts 4:11). Ultimately, He threatened their power!

When He enters the temple this day, the religious leaders are still reeling from the previous days’ events. His clearing of the temple was followed by a time of healing and teaching (Matthew 21:14-17), where the people cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”. The Messianic titles poured out in praise to Jesus caused the religious leaders to become indignant, prompting them to begin questioning Him. Their goal was to trick Him and cause Him to say something that would incriminate Him, so that they can arrest Him, but alas they could not! In fact, Jesus showed His ability to use logic and reason to shut them down! They questioned him about His authority, His obedience to the laws of the land, the resurrection of the dead, and His answers not only silenced the Pharisees, but the Bible says they “marveled” at his words! 

The hypocrisy of these religious leaders who claimed to serve God was too much for the Son of God to just overlook. During these confrontations at the temple this day, He calls out their behavior through a series of parables that are clearly meant to reveal the coming judgement on the Pharisees and religious leaders. Matthew records the “seven woes” message that was directed toward them to serve as a warning of what was to come. Jesus’ ongoing chastisement of the Pharisees’ attitudes and hypocritical behavior should cause us as believers to reflect on our attitudes.  The sin of pride was rampant among the Pharisees, but sadly, many Christians suffer from this as well. Looking with judgmental eyes toward others, comparing our actions with theirs can lead us to a pharisaical type of attitude. We can begin to think we are better than others, trying to use our “good” works to prove our worth. Yet, just as the religious leaders failed to recognize their own depravity, we too can forget that “there is none who does good….not even one (Psalms 14:1-3).

Although Jesus had many confrontations this day, there are a couple of very important conversations to note. One is the conversation recorded in Matt. 22:34-40.

When one of the Pharisees, “a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36 ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In this one verse, He sums up our purpose! Love God and Love People. Although you have most likely read these verses on numerous occasions, you may not have ever realized that this conversation was toward the end of Jesus’ life. To know that after all of the teaching He had done, and Old testament verses He had quoted, He sums everything up in these two verses. He wants them to know this THESE are the ones which matter! The religious leaders An interesting note here is that during the 1st century AD, people did not “love” their neighbor. Serving others was not a Roman behavior nor an attitude of the religious leaders. The concept of What Jesus was suggesting was radical and would be a crucial part of the church that is about to emerge a few weeks from this day! Interestingly, these are the exact words we need now! Loving our neighbor through acts of service whether it is helping with tornado clean-up or providing supplies and money to help those in need, are all ways we can follow Christ’s command. Giving and Serving as we can is the most Christ honoring behavior we can do!

One other important conversation was when Jesus watched the people putting their money in the temple treasury and notices a poor widow who gives her two coins which is all she has. Her behavior becomes an object lesson for the disciples as He tells them that her offering was more than all of the others, although she gave the least. This is in stark contrast to the self-righteous Pharisees He has just addressed, whose large gifts were done for show. Many of the parables He has been teaching this day deal with the topic of who will be accepted into the kingdom. The religious leaders believe that their status as ancestors of Abraham and position as “keepers of the law” are their ticket to heaven. However, Jesus’ message is clear. The kingdom of heaven is not for those who think they deserve it, but it is for those who know they do not!

As you reflect on all of these conversations from the scripture today, consider an important truth. First, what is your own attitude toward your sins. The Pharisees were quick to point out the sins of others but did not seem to see their own sins. Their hypocrisy was an abomination to God and Jesus made sure they knew that. If you are honest, do you sometimes struggle with a Pharisaical attitude? Do you fall into trying to seek your own righteousness through your own “keeping of the law” – checking off boxes, comparing your “good” behavior to others, practicing obedience without a relationship? We have to remember, that No matter how hard we try or try to look like we have it together, we are NOT good in our own abilities.

Remember that THIS is why Jesus came! THIS is why He will go to the cross at the end of the week! We are all sinners and can never be “good” enough on our own; we need a Savior! Today is a good time to remember this! Today is a good time to ask Jesus to give you the right attitude! Today is a great time to put your faith in His goodness! 

**Let me share a little more information about chronology again as it relates to the different days and events during Jesus’ last week. When we read all of the different gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we may question the timing as we notice the different order of events. For instance, in Matthew it seems that some things happened on the same day, whereas in Mark, events seem to be occurring on the next day. Since there is rarely mention of specific days of the week until we get to Friday, we have to look at all of the gospels along with other historical records and background information to put together a timeline. With this in mind, it is helpful to understand that all of the gospels have different authors, therefore, different perspectives and priorities in the way they write. We are making inferences, in many cases, on which specific day an event or conversation happened. We also have church tradition which provides some framework for a timeline. Despite the apparent differences in some of the timing in the gospels, we discover that each account gives us different details that can help us understand the other account a little better and, in the end, we can make an educated guess on the chronology. For the most part, this devotional follows the traditional timeline.

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Holy Week: Day Two – March 29, 2021

Read – Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48

Reflection– On the traditional calendar, this is Holy Monday. Even though many churches don’t have any special services or remembrances on this day, there is no doubt that Jesus was busy, and his actions give us insight into what were some of his most important messages during these final days!  

In Mark 11:11, after the triumphal entry on Sunday, the gospel writer, Mark, explains that Jesus went out to Bethany to spend the night which was often his custom when visiting Jerusalem. One interesting point to understand is that Jerusalem was crowded during this week, in fact, extremely crowded since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread-Passover celebration and Jews from all over had come to the Holy City to participate. Some scholars estimate upwards of two million people could have been in and around Jerusalem during this time. This would explain one of the reasons that Jesus would not stay in Jerusalem at night. The other was that Bethany is where his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived, and so that would have been a comfortable place for him surrounded by friends during this final week.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem that Monday morning the first recorded activity was an encounter with a fig tree. Jesus was hungry and looked for food. The fact that Jesus experienced physical “hunger” reminds us of his humanness. In His deity, He would not have been hungry, but in his humanity he was. When He sees a fig tree with leaves but no fruit on it, His next action is surprising; He curses it and it withers immediately. You see, this type of fig tree only produced leaves when there was fruit on it, so it was truly an imposter. It looked “fruitful” but had nothing to show for it.

All throughout the Old testament, the metaphor of a plant (fig tree, vineyard, seed, tree) is used to describe Israel.  Many prophetic words describe the fate of Israel’s disobedience and lack of fruitfulness ( Isaiah 5:1-7, Ezekiel 17:1-10, Hosea 9: 10-17). Because of this fruitlessness, Israel ended up in captivity twice (Assyrians and Babylonians). When Jesus curses this fig tree. on this day, it is another clear sign that Jesus is no mere man. Only God could curse the fig tree and cause it to wither and produce no more, and this immediate pronouncement of judgment was very instructive for the disciples. This was the state of Israel at the time, and in a tangible way He was demonstrating that hypocrisy had no place with His people. Having an appearance of godliness (leaves) without the fruit was just like the Pharisees and religious leaders, and this was further proof that judgement was coming for them. The disciples are truly taken back by this bold move by Jesus and ask him how this could happen? Rather than giving them an explanation, His response points them to faith and to prayer and alludes to their future role in the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:33-44). 

The message of the fig tree to the disciples is a message to us as disciples today. As we live our lives are we just giving an appearance of godliness? More specifically, during this Holy season, do we just “look religious” or are really focusing on Christ Himself? A very important point here is that trees don’t produce fruit, they yield it. They don’t try really hard to make the fruit, they are fruitful as they obtain the nutrients from the soil. In other words, having a lot of religious activity is not a sign of fruitfulness, but staying rooted in the soil of God’s word will bring forth fruit in our lives. Our righteousness is not based on us, it is based only on His power. Every time the Israelites disobeyed and and turned to other gods, they stopped yielding fruit. We should recognize that God truly desires for us to live authentically, yielding fruit that comes from a heart focused on Him, because the consequences of hypocrisy are great!

The second event that happens this day is the cleansing of the temple. This is the second time that Jesus has had to exercise His authority when it came to the activities going on in the temple. Referencing two Old Testament passages, He reminds them of the purpose of the temple, what it is and what it is NOT.  Isaiah 56:7 says that the temple is to be used as a “house of prayer” which is very different than what the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrifices were doing. They were making a profit, driven by greed rather than a heart to pray for the nations. In Jeremiah 7:11, God pronounced judgment on Israel for the evil they had done, turning His house into a “den of thieves”. Not only were they making a profit off of selling the sacrifices, they were essentially robbing the people.

Two important thoughts should be considered here. First, using His authority in this way, Jesus really revealed who He was. Remember the day before He rode into town in humility on a colt, today He is exercising His Kingly authority by cursing the fig tree and driving out evil. Jesus, God in the flesh, made His identity clear. Jesus showed us that God is a God of peace but also of righteous judgment! He is a God of Love and a God who demands Justice!

Last year, Easter 2020, we were clustered in our homes watching services online and foregoing the normal church attendance due to a crippling pandemic! But, a year later, we are in a different place. While things are certainly not “normal”, Easter services will happen all over the world even if they are slightly modified. For me, and I am sure for many others, I can hardly contain my excitement! To celebrate this glorious day with other believers in a corporate setting is a powerful experience! Yet, consider this: God no longer dwells in a temple made by man, but rather in our hearts! With this in mind, whether in a corporate setting or in your home, are you prioritizing holiness and prayer? In other words, what is the state of your temple today? Is it clear of greed, jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, and other self-focused (fruitless) thoughts? As we come to worship this Easter (and every day for that matter) let’s remember that the “temple” of God is a place where God should be glorified! In other words, it’s not about us! Let’s recommit our “temples” to the one who “bought” us with His own blood!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Cor. 6:19-20)

Additional Historical background information https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojmonday

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Holy Week: Day One-Palm Sunday March 28, 2021

Photo by LIZ ROMO on Pexels.com

Just two days ago, an EF-4 tornado blew through my community leaving in its wake devastation and physical loss that will take months maybe years to fully recover from! The power of this phenomena of nature that destroyed landscapes and buildings in a matter of seconds is beyond human control or understanding! One minute it was just a thunderstorm, but in a split second, it took a deadly turn. The sheer force and unpredictability of this weather occurrence causes me to reflect once again on my own humanity, my own inability to “control” my surroundings or “predict” what will happen today or tomorrow. For all of us in 2021, this has been the theme of our year. It seemed one minute we were living normal lives and the next minute our world was shut down, indefinitely. Just like this tornado that wreaked havoc on my community, the pandemic brought its own destruction that will take years to recover from. What do we do when we face these uncertainties of life? We look for HOPE!

On the day after the tornado’s destructive path, something beautiful happened. Our community came together in an amazing way! People dropped what they had planned for their weekend and went to work helping their neighbors. Thousands of water bottles were purchased, along with food, toiletries, tarps, blankets and countless other items to meet the needs of people. THIS was a phenomena no one could predict but one that produces HOPE. While the hope that comes from the power of the human spirit coming together is something incredible to behold, there is a hope that even more breathtaking: the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ.

Today, we are one week away from Easter Sunday 2021, the pinnacle celebration for Christians all over the world! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead also defies human understanding, but instead of leaving a path of destruction, it paved the way to God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central theme of Christianity because His victory over sin and death gives us a HOPE that truly is beyond human explanation! In fact there is nothing that will trump the HOPE found in Jesus Christ! In the religious world, today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of the week referred to as the Passion week or the Holy Week and is a time for both reverence and celebration. Join me this week as we walk through this Holiest of weeks and discover the true HOPE for this world!

DAY ONE:

Read Matthew 21:1-11 and Luke 19: 28-40

Reflection: Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem for the final time.  He entered Jerusalem on Sunday* for the last time in what is known as the “triumphal entry.. Exactly one week later, he has the ultimate “triumphal” re-entry into the world through the Resurrection! In between these two events, Jesus experiences a multitude of emotions.

The significance of this whole event cannot be overstated. Up until now in Jesus’ ministry, He has shut down all attempts to hail Him as king in an open and public way. Over and over, He has told the disciples that His time had not yet come. When those who had been recipients of miracles wanted to spread it around, He told them to not make it known But today is different. Today is the day He allows them to worship Him as king!

Why is this day different?  First and foremost Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel. In fact, the passage in Daniel is very specific about the date that the Messiah will enter into Jerusalem. (Dan. 9:24-27). When studied closely, the day Jesus enters fits the specifications described by Daniel to a tee. The fulfillment of prophecy doesn’t stop there. In Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years before this event, the Messianic prophecy involves how the King will come: “lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Psalms 118:25-26, another Messianic prophecy, is fulfilled by the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna, hosanna.”

The fulfillment of these prophecies is profound because the statistical probability of Jesus fulfilling even one is quite remarkable, but there are three in this one event. During the whole week, prophecy after prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus, which, is a mathematical impossibility, giving solid evidence for the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.

Another reason why this day is so profound is the way that Jesus comes: “on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” His entrance in this way emphasized His humility, as one who came to bring peace not the sword, as a humble servant rather than a conquering king.  While Jesus deserved all the honor given to any earthly king and exceedingly more, He rejected this sort of reception and chose a less “showy” sort of display of His royalty. He did allow them to worship Him, but it is clear that He allows this because His “time had come.”This praise especially would be the catalyst that caused the Pharisees and religious leaders to finally arrest Him, thus fulfilling more prophecy. Everything about this day was calculated and planned by God to fulfill His ultimate plan of redemption.

A final thought to consider as you reflect on this day: only a few days from this one, the crowds will be shouting a different sort of message: “crucify, crucify.” How could this happen? I think it is because they didn’t know Jesus as Lord. They praised Him because of what they “thought” He was – a king who would set them free from Roman oppression But He never promised that, and in fact, told them that was not His plan! (Luke 19:11-12)

I guess the question for you and I is, do we “really” KNOW Him as Lord? As you approach this week, can you join in the cry, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and really mean it? Although “hosanna” may sound like a declaration of praise, it is actually a cry for salvation. It essentially means, “please, save us.” As the people shouted this, they wanted “salvation” from the Romans, but what Jesus’ would bring is something so much more wonderful. His sacrifice a few days from now would give them salvation for eternity, but they didn’t understand. They wanted salvation on their terms rather than trusting in the God who had always been eager to “save.” Do you understand who He is or do you want Jesus on your own terms?

If you do understand why He came, then this day should be a day of rejoicing over the reality of who He is, a king to be worshipped, in fact, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS! (Phil. 2:10-11)

Ask God to help you gain a deeper understand of Jesus’ deity. He came to this earth to live as a man, but make no mistake, HE was no man! He was and is the LORD OF ALL!

*For the sake of historical accuracy, I need to state that the chronology of the events of this week are up for debate. First, the gospel writers did not necessarily write everything in pure chronological order. The Roman and Jewish calendars differed quite a bit, so this could account for differences in the timetable among writers and historians. Some believe the triumphal entry actually happened on Monday while others hold to the traditional Sunday entry. If it is on Monday, then the other days would also have a slightly different focus, particularly Wednesday. From Thursday on, there is little debate. In the end, being overly dogmatic about the chronology of the events of this week doesn’t serve any practical purpose. For the sake of consistency and clarity, this devotion sticks with the traditional calendar but acknowledges that there are other plausible views on this timetable.

Here is an interesting video put out by Crossway Media with some extra historical facts about what was happening on this day – A.D. 33

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A Season for: Confession

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If you looked at your calendar yesterday, you would most likely have noticed that Wednesday, February 17, 2021 is referred to as Ash Wednesday. Although many Christian denominations have special services on this day (though this may be a bit different in a Covid world), many Christians don’t really understand why this is on their calendar and what it means. Coming from a protestant denomination which doesn’t formally observe this practice, I decided to embark on a bit of study to discover what it was all about and found myself deep into a study of some of the less talked about spiritual disciplines. These practices can not only deepen our walk with the Lord but also have a profound effect on all our relationships! Join me as we spend the next few weeks in this blog taking a look at some Biblical teachings on some spiritual disciplines that when applied can quite possibly change your life!

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of a season called Lent which is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter (Resurrection Sunday). During this time, those who practice the tradition of Lent, give up something (fast) as a sign of repentance and commitment to God. The Ash Wednesday focus is on the reality of our humanity: our sin and our mortality and is centered around the solemn realization of our need to confess our sin before a Holy God. While the Bible does not talk about specific ceremonies or use the terms Ash Wednesday or Lent, the Bible certainly gives a clear call to both confession and fasting as regular disciplines for the Christ follower.

Let’s start with Confession. Truthfully, this is a worthy place to start when talking about spiritual disciplines because the practice of confession puts us in the correct position before a Holy God. You see, our relationship with God is based on our understanding of our sinfulness. Isaiah 59:2 explains that our sin has made a separation between us and God. Romans 3:10–18 gives the depth of our fallen humanity. After we understand how deeply we have sinned against God, this is where confession comes in. Confession is an important part of our spiritual experience because it keeps us in our place and God in His. The result of confession is the blessing of forgiveness. The Psalmist David describes what it looks like in Psalm 32: 1-5.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up[b] as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. 

Forgiveness has been and always will be at the heart of our relationship with God. He longs to forgive and we need forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is based on His great love for us and that was demonstrated most perfectly at the cross!  

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

While Jesus died once and for all on the cross for all iniquity and forgives us of all our sins past, present and future at the moment of salvation, the practice of confession on a regular basis is truly “good for the soul”. As David writes in Psalm 51 after confessing his sin with Bathsheba, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (51:10-12) Confession is healing, redemptive, restorative and essential for a maturing relationship with God!

Yet, we can’t talk about confession without also talking about repentance. Repentance is a turning away from, doing an about face and going the other way. In other words, confessing our sins is incomplete without repentance. We can’t just feel bad about our sin, we need to repent and turn away from the sin we are confessing. The practice of confession makes us more conscious of our sins and causes us to embrace the reality of God’s forgiveness more fully. As we understand the magnitude of what it means to be forgiven (my sins were paid for by the blood of Jesus) then repentance is the natural response!

Private confession is a personal experience between man and God. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for us to approach God without need of a mediator (I Tim. 2:5). We are able to come to God and He is “faithful and just” to forgive (I John 1:9) because Jesus is our “advocate” (I John 2:1). While confession is certainly a private practice, it is also a cooperate experience. When we read James 5:16, the direction to confess our sins to one another makes this crystal clear. Confession is an important part of Christian community and should lead us to powerful praying where we see people healed, set free and restored.

In Richard J. Foster’s classic book a Celebration of Discipline he writes, “The Discipline of confession brings an end to pretense. God is calling into being a Church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change! ”

As we enter into this season of preparation for the glorious day where we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, may we start with remembering our humanity, our brokenness. Confession is a good practice to keep us in the place of humility before a Holy God. Yes, it should be a solemn time, but on the other hand, it must also be a celebration of the incredible FORGIVENESS that is ours because of what Christ has done!

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Living with Certainty in a World of Uncertainty

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Uncertainty. This was the reality of almost every day in 2020, and now just a few days into 2021, we are faced with more uncertainty. The chaos and confusion of this era of history seems unprecedented. However, I am quite certain that what is happening to us is really not a new phenomena. Today, we have non-stop news and social media updates to keep our uncertainty at a heightened level, but living in uncertain times is nothing new!

We all live with a bit of uncertainty just because we live on planet earth. Nature itself is unpredictable. Wind can bring a breeze on a hot day but can become lethal in a moment; rain brings growth and beauty but can become floodwaters devastating a community…While we all accept the reality of nature’s fickleness, how do we process the uncertainty of the direction of the country; the uncertainty of people’s actions; the uncertainty of a virus, economic instability, occupational unknowns…the list goes on and on. Uncertainty causes us to live on the edge of fear and often makes us paralyzed to move forward! But is there a way we can live with confidence in this world gone awry?

The answer is a resounding YES! As I mentioned at the beginning, uncertainty is not new to us in 2021. In fact, over and over again in scriptures we can read about circumstances and situations that the people of God found themselves in and learn how they faced uncertain times. Did they always make good choices, walk by faith, or listen to God? No, but we have the benefit of learning from their missteps, blunders and experiences and can use this to help us in our daily unknowns! This is why the BIBLE should be your go to reading material EVERY DAY. Don’t open up social media, news apps, or even the hard-copy of the newspaper before you open up the WORD OF GOD! The truths that lie within the scriptures are not messages for the people in the past, they are alive for us today, in 2021!

Not sure you believe me? Go with me to the book of Job. No one in all of scripture lived with more questions and uncertainty than Job. Job was a righteous man, but God allowed him to experience some of the most difficult trials that any man has ever gone through. Every day he woke up with uncertainty, unanswered questions and even despair, but he never lost hope in the middle of his pain. When you have time, you can do a deep study of his life but here are a few conclusions that Job came to understand as he searched for answers to his uncertainty:

“… I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
10 But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:8-10)

Even when Job could not see God, he KNEW that God was working and that He had a plan.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth; (Job 19:25)

Job knows that God is his rescuer, that He will free him from his “captivity”. (redeem literally means to buy back as from slavery)

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Job knows that God is capable of taking care of everything in his life, and that whatever His purpose is will come to pass! Mortal man can simply not affect what God has designed.

Do you notice how many times Job says the word “know”. This is the synonym of certainty. So, there are some things that Job “knows” without a doubt and we can put these into truth take-aways for our life!

  • God is working even when we don’t see him. (23:9)
  • God is our redeemer, the one who brings us out of slavery and rescues us from the power of sin and death (19:25)
  • God can do EVERYTHING and none of HIS purposes can be stopped. 42:2

But one of the most powerful phrases said by Job is in 42:3:

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

This is Job’s admission that there are some things that are too “wonderful” (beyond human understanding) for him to know, some things are in the mind of God, the creator of the universe and when we try to “figure out” God’s reasons for allowing things to happen, we need to admit as Job did that some things are not for us to understand! So, Job is certain of many things but also accepts that there are some things he will not understand, but he is ok with that, and we should be too!!

We can live with certainty in uncertain times because we have a SAVIOR who is working behind the scenes, to carry out his perfect will and we can be sure that His ways are more “wonderful” than we can imagine!

So pick up your Bible today and build your life on the truths about God! I am certain you will be glad you did!

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

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A wave of deep discouragement, sadness and fear found its way into my heart this past month. I wish I could deny this happened to me, a child of God, teacher of God’s word, devoted and dedicated believer, but it did. In fact this feeling was like a rip current, coming on strong, threatening to pull me under before I knew what happened! This feeling of dread and almost despair was real and raw, exposing a weakness in me that is not something I like to admit, and to be honest, I was a long way from having an attitude of thankfulness!

2020 has been like this for many of us. Over and over again we have come face to face with one example of the brokenness of our world after another. Besides the virus, I have two friends who are facing uncertain cancer diagnoses, another friend who tragically lost a beloved child, another who is reeling from a year of loss and others who are facing lay offs, devastating relational issues, wayward children, loneliness, emptiness and depression like they never have before. And on top of all this, we as a nation are facing the blistering reality that our nation is not united at all and many are fearful of the future, sinking into a crippling hopelessness.

What are we to do when we find ourselves here? You may be able to rise above all of the negative, but for me, it is not so easy. I think too much, and then those thoughts lead me down roads full of potholes! The problem is my thinking! I get into trouble and spiral into a dark place when I “think” about what is going on around me. In fact, I can get so focused on what is happening in the present tense that it clouds my future reality. Very often, my thoughts create scenarios in my head that are not based on facts and my version of “reality” gets distorted as I “think” too much. The bottom line is that when I choose to focus only on what is happening today, I can get discouraged, disillusioned and downright dysfunctional!

But, while the problem is my thinking, ironically, the answer is also my thinking! Learning to change our thinking is the simple yet complex solution to a mind that has gone off the rails! I think the apostle Paul may have struggled with his thinking at some point because he writes about this very issue in several of his epistles! The book of Philippians finds Paul in prison where he could have easily looked at his situation and gotten very depressed. None of us would blame him if he had settled into a state of hopelessness. His arrest was the result of his preaching of the gospel, and the government was out to persecute and prosecute Christians, so Paul was on very shaky ground. He had no idea if he would actually get out of prison, and so his “what ifs” were based on very real facts. But in that prison cell, Paul didn’t live in a place of despair. He, instead, resisted a negative mindset and pens an action plan for all of us who struggle with having “thankful” thinking!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4: 6-8)

To get our thinking in order, it begins with surrender. We must start by turning it ALL over to Him. ALL the worries and anxieties of today become less when we pray. But, don’t miss the key verse “with thanksgiving”! As we take our problems, struggles, fears and pains to God, we need to come with a thankful heart. How can we be thankful when things are a mess of broken pieces? Remember where Paul is when he writes this encouragement? We come with THANKSGIVING as we acknowledge that He is a GOOD God! We recognize that although a situation may look bad from our perspective, He can make bad – good, wrong-right, shattered-whole.

Paul solidifies this truth about God by giving us the results of praying with a thankful heart – PEACE. A peace “which passes all understanding”. This means that we can not mentally comprehend what praying thankfully brings. In fact, this PEACE can not be explained, only experienced!

But also look at what PEACE has the power to do! Paul says, Peace will GUARD our hearts and MIND through Christ Jesus. “Guard” is a military term referring to protection from hostile invaders. We can all agree that very often our thoughts are our enemy! They can wreak havoc on our soul and cause us to live in a state of unrest and total despair. So, the answer is PEACE! Peace that comes as we PRAY with THANKSGIVING! PEACE from God protects our thought life and keeps our mind focused on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Yes, there are a lot of negative, depressing things in the world, but dwelling on those will get us nowhere, so let’s change directions!

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, let’s take our worries, fears, problems and pain to Him, thanking Him no matter what the circumstances and allow His PEACE to keep us from the cycle of toxic thoughts!

Thanks be to God who is able to “keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose THOUGHTS are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)

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Beautiful?

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As the weather changes, temps drop and leaves change, I am always reminded of the predictability of nature. Every year in Georgia, I have watched this event, autumn, unfold with the wonder of a child. I can’t get over the amazing way that a green leaf becomes a yellow, red or orange hue. Some years it happens earlier or later than the previous year; some years are prettier than others, but it always occurs in one way or another. If you are from farther up north, the phenomena is even more spectacular as the colors become ultra vibrant and breathtaking. So, not only is autumn predictable, it is also beautiful which causes me to ponder life, especially during our current climate of division, uncertainty and downright brokenness. 

This current “season” that we find ourselves in the world is not in the least bit beautiful. It is painful, depressing and even a little scary. However, if we are followers of Jesus, I do believe upon closer inspection we can find some parallels between the beauty of autumn and the world we are living in. First, this season of unrest in 2020 is absolutely predictable. In fact, Jesus predicted it over 2000 years ago. Consider his words to the disciples in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus never even suggested that life would be easy for the disciples. He predicted their persecution, their discouragement and even their death. Yet, he doesn’t leave them with this. He actually goes ahead and gives them clear imperatives on how they need to approach these times. He says, “take heart”…which literally means – be “courageous” and “confident” when tough times come. So, even though the world seems to become more troubling with each passing day, we are comforted by the truth that God has overcome (conquered) the world.

While trouble in this world is inevitable, we have a predictable outcome – VICTORY!

A second truth that we can hold onto as we look at the beauty of autumn is that beauty is found in embracing change. Think about it. Green leaves are pretty. They symbolize life and health. The color green is associated with living things, so in essence, green should be our preferred color, but no one is upset when the color starts appearing. In fact, we love the color and relish in a trip to peruse the changing leaves. I recently took a trip through the Shenandoah Valley and observed a myriad of colors: red, gold, orange.., and it was indeed beautiful. It sounds silly that I would look at the amazing colors and say, “I wish it was still green”. So, perhaps this is how I should view the change in life. 

As humans, we typically fight change with every ounce of our being. We want things to stay the same because it is comfortable, but change is unavoidable. Some change is ok, but when it comes in the form of losing someone we love, having to change jobs or adjusting to a new health diagnosis, or any other tough issue, change is not welcome. However, maybe we can learn to see these changes differently. Perhaps we should learn to see the “beautiful” in the change. Yes, we may still wish for the “green” again, but as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Now, I am not suggesting that some things are not extremely difficult and that we don’t need to grieve during loss because that is a part of the human experience. Yet, after a while, autumn can remind us that change can bring beauty.

Let’s don’t be afraid to embrace the “new colors” that God brings knowing that in His hands they can be BEAUTIFUL!

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“Seek” Peace

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I am a worrier. Yep, I honestly hate to admit this because I know that this is not a good trait to have, and is, in fact, a sin, but the reality is, I have been a worrier for as long as I can remember. I can’t tell you how many times the phrase, “I am so worried about ______”  has come out of my mouth? For some of us, cause I know I am not alone, this phrase is said every day and often more than once a day. I have met a few people in my life who never worry, and this is truly hard to believe for a “career” worrier. I don’t know when it started, but I can remember as a small child being worried about all kinds of things. I would create “what if” scenarios on a regular basis. I would lay awake at night trying to fall asleep, but I couldn’t because I was too worried. I worried about my parents, my grandparents, my siblings, my friends and even whether I was going to wake up in the morning. Now, before you start thinking this girl needs help, I will go ahead and admit that I do. In fact, I know that worry has been a joy killer and a peace slayer in my life during different seasons, and there is nothing like a pandemic and a political divide like we have never seen to cause an all out war on a girl’s nerves and move the worry meter to danger levels! 

So, what is the cause of worry? The simple answer is that it is a lack of faith, but this is anything but simple. If you asked me about my faith in God; I would wholeheartedly, passionately and without doubt express that I believe that Jesus Christ lived, died for my sins and was raised again to give me victory over death. I believe that He is both Savior and Lord and He is the only one who can make life worth living. I believe that God is sovereign over all things and holds the “whole world in His hands”. I believe He is the creator and sustainer of life, and without Him we are irrevocably lost! So if I believe all of this so emphatically, how can I also be a worrier? This is the question I ask myself every time I fall into a cycle of worry! 

If I believe that God is who He says He is, how can I allow anxiety to overtake my emotions? Why do I listen to the lies from the enemy rather than resting in the promises of God? The concept of worry is not a 21st century problem though; it is actually a problem that has existed since the fall of man and one that Jesus, himself, addresses in His famous sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 6. In fact, he spends a significant amount of time encouraging His listeners with this admonition not to worry! He reminds them that worry has no place in the life of the believer. Why? Because God cares and just as he takes care of the birds of the air, He will also take care of His children. But Jesus does not just tell us to stop worrying, He also tells us how. He sums it all up with: 

 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. NASB (Matt. 6:31-33). 

Jesus’ remedy for worry is to SEEK HIM FIRST! 

The writer Isaiah says it another way, 

You will keep in perfect peace

    all who trust in you,

    all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (NLT) Isaiah 26:3

So, if we can put all of this together by saying, 

When we seek Him first, and keep our mind focused on Him rather than our worries, we will have peace. In a world where so much is unknown and every morning there are new things to worry about we have to commit ourselves to a “seek Him first” mentality. However, we have to acknowledge that the world (satan) is in an all out war to take away our peace. A Christian who is consumed by worry and fear is powerless to serve and draw others to Christ. This is why we have to be diligent, steadfast and resolved to FOCUS on God and HIS WORDS. Just a short time before Jesus left the disciples and went to the cross, he left them with these words: 

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27 – NLT) 

Jesus reminds us that we will not find PEACE in the world! No election results, vaccine, justice system, scientific discovery… will bring an end to our worry. Did you catch an important point that Jesus said? The PEACE he gives is NOT like the world’s peace. In fact, the world CANNOT give this type of PEACE. So, we need to stop looking for an end to our worries from anything the world brings. Only the PEACE that Jesus gives us will make our hearts calm, restful and ultimately joyful. Will you commit with me today to seek HIM first. Grab your Bible and a prayer journal and seek HIM who is PEACE and let the things of the world fade away!

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CHANGE CHANNELS

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Bad News, more bad news, and even more bad news! It’s rare today to hear anything positive, so if you spend too much watching or reading news updates you will be living in a constant state of fear, worry, panic, anger, confusion or any number of negative emotions. The best way to describe how many of us have felt during the past several months is OVERWHELMED! The dictionary defines the word “overwhelmed” as “to [be] overcome or overpowered by a superior force, to [be] buried beneath a mass of something. The news will do this to you. Just last week I had a bout with a “depression” I couldn’t shake. I overall felt “overcome and overpowered by something…” Typically, I am a positive person, but last week I found myself with a full-on case of the blues, and I couldn’t shake it. As I tried to identify what was causing these feelings, the Holy Spirit- the great reminder- made it crystal clear. I was becoming “overcome and overpowered by” too much bad news. Reading, listening and watching updates on news outlets or social media posts about the virus, the protests, the disunity, the societal unrest, and the overall brokenness of our nation and world is a recipe for negative thinking and was causing me to fall into a mental funk that I was powerless to pull myself out of. Maybe you have felt this way at some time or another. Maybe recently. Maybe today. 

This pervasive sense of doom is caused by allowing supposed “facts”, opinions and information to permeate my thinking. Yet, finding the truth in the ever-changing reporting and new scientific findings is impossible. We can scour news sources, websites and medical books and journals hoping to find something that will make us feel better, but what we will find more often than not is unclear, inconclusive or contradictory findings that leave us more discouraged than when we started. Sure, there may be some news that is reliable at times, but in the end, there is only one source of information in our world that is completely unchanging and true — God’s Word! 

God’s word contains the most reliable, factual, powerful, life-changing message in the world. From a historical standpoint, the Bible is hands down the most trustworthy record we have. It trumps all other historical documents of its time in terms of reliability. Also, every archaeological find related to Biblical places and people has only strengthened the Bible’s reliability and has never refuted it. In addition thousands of prophecies have been fulfilled from both the Old Testament and New Testament which is a statistical improbability. Fulfilled prophecy is one of the most powerful proofs for the Bible’s trustworthiness! In the end, hundreds of skeptics have turned to Christ because of the Bible’s reliability, so if you have any doubt whatsoever that God’s Word is the only “news source” worth reading, here are a couple of good links worth exploring! https://www.equip.org/article/bible-reliability-m-a-p-s-to-guide-you-through-bible-reliability/

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/is-the-bible-reliable/

All of this leads me to a suggestion for us. If we don’t want to be overwhelmed anymore by the negative, we need to limit, avoid and even shut down and turn off all of the bad news and get back to the GOOD NEWS! We need to make a commitment to make God’s Word our source for news and “fact check” the messages we are hearing out there by holding them up to the truth of the Word!

Just to prove my point, here are just a few headlines you can trust!

FIRST CENTURY TEXT REVEALS THE SECRET TO LIFE!

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in his name. John 20:31

CURE (FOR SIN) DISCOVERED! 

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2, 

JESUS CANCELS DEATH! 

 But it is now shown to us by the coming of our Savior Christ Jesus. He destroyed death, and through the Good News he showed us the way to have life that cannot be destroyed. II Tim. 1:10

PEACE IS FOUND!  

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

FAITH IN JESUS BRINGS VICTORY! 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.– I John 5:4

GOD’S LOVE CAN’T BE STOPPED!  

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39

It’s TIME to CHANGE THE CHANNEL friends, and let the Word of God overwhelm us!

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SUDDENLY…

Meeting and worshipping together as a Body of believers is one of the most important activities we can do as we wait and watch what God is doing in the world!

Waiting is literally one of the most difficult activities in the world. Whether it is waiting in line, waiting for the doctor, waiting for your table at a restaurant, waiting for a wedding day or the birth of a child not many of us enjoy the waiting game. If you are like me, waiting for change to come is one of the toughest things we have to do, and we often wonder why change is so slow in coming. This is particularly true when it comes to prayer. We pray for change in some sort of situation, but we often wonder if it will ever happen. Waiting for God to answer our prayers in challenging situations is one of the most difficult of endeavors, but the truth is, this is what faith is all about: trusting in things we can’t see, believing that God will answer and leaning into this each and every day! 

In our current world of 2020, almost everyone can relate to this reality of waiting for change to happen. We desperately want the pandemic to end, the world to reopen, to see attitudes shift,  see deep healing to happen but we really want these things on our time table and if we are honest, we are tired of waiting! We want them NOW!

But as always, as we seek God through His word, we can find answers and hope! For those who are Christ followers, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that change will only happen through a move of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men and women, but the question is when will God make a move? The truth is, because he is God, it is entirely up to Him! In other words, we can not make it happen; we can’t orchestrate a move of God anymore than we can make a plant grow because it will happen exactly in the time frame and the method that He has planned! 

Acts chapter 2:1-4 gives us a simple but profound truth about the movement of the Holy Spirit:  

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

The Key word here is SUDDENLY! (Suddenly means unexpected) It means that although Jesus had promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come, He did not tell them when it would happen; He just told them that it would happen: “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

There are a lot of powerful truths in these verses, but I just want to highlight this one reassuring fact: when it comes to the movement of the Holy Spirit, we need to understand that He moves SUDDENLY – unexpectedly! While we may not enjoy the wait, we need to be clear that just because change is not happening on our time table, does not mean that God is not working. The Spirit of God moves and works according to His plans and no amount of human actions will “make” God’s Spirit move. Now, don’t get me wrong. We have things to do while we wait, but we do not have any say so in the when, the where and the how it will happen. 

Consider the disciples. Jesus had risen from the dead and for forty days he was with them in His resurrected state teaching and preparing them for the day of His ascension back to heaven. On his final time with them, He instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit; however, He didn’t give them a specific time that this would occur; He just said “not many days from now”. It turned out to be ten days later that His Holy Spirit came – SUDDENLY. 

So, what were they doing while they waited? According to Acts 1:14, “all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” The simple fact is that they were living in unity (one accord) and were committed to prayer and their prayer was fueled by their faith in His promise. ! I am sure that they would have loved for the Lord to send the Holy Spirit on the first or second day, but it was a ten day wait. Yet, they KNEW that He would send it because He said He would! 

What does this truth about the Holy Spirit teach us? Well, the lessons are endless, but the one I am embracing today is that as I await change – change in the lives of people I know, change in culture, change in the overall state of the world, I must not STOP praying! While I may not see what God is doing, I must trust His promise that He will move! Faith in God’s promises are what ignite our prayers. So DON’T STOP PRAYING!

And, don’t miss the other aspect of this scene from Acts. They were praying together, so don’t underestimate the power of praying with your brothers and sisters! This is why we need to get back to meeting together!!

The truth is, as we come together as a body of believers, trusting in His word, praying in “one accord” for His power to change the lives of people we love and the lives of people all over the world, SUDDENLY we will see just what God has been up to!

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CHANGE IS POSSIBLE!

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Have you ever felt ill-equipped and helpless during a difficult situation. If you are like me, this is exactly how you feel at the beginning of June 2020. There has been SO much happening in our world during the past three months, and I am frankly experiencing the overwhelming reality that there is no easy or fast solution to any of the problems! We are currently a nation in need of healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Sickness in the form of disease and deep seated attitudes has stolen our peace and we are a nation desperate for a cure! But, as always, the answer to the problems is not found in this world because the problem is spiritual at its core. 

This is not the first time and certainly will not be the last time that the fallenness of mankind has been so blatantly obvious. Over and over again through the centuries we can read of the evil acts and pure sinfulness of man moving in the world so, sadly, we should not be surprised when we see these things come to the surface. Many people look to the world’s institutions to find answers, but the truth is, no government, no scientist, no historian, no civic leader will fix what ails us. Only the Spirit of the living God can change the hearts of men, and this is the only way the world can truly be healed. 

The Spirit of God is the way of transformation, without Him, all change is based on human effort which is only temporary, or superficial at best. Deep seated issues that are found in the hearts of men can only be rooted out by a supernatural work of God. Perhaps this is why we struggle to see change? Maybe it is because we continue to try in our own efforts and at the end of the day, this is simply not enough. We need the power of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men to make real change,

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were constantly finding themselves in one crisis after another, and all because of their refusal to follow God’s commands. They finally ended up in captivity which was the ultimate consequence. They desperately needed to change their ways. The prophet Ezekiel is sent to tell them about what God was going to do in the future. He prophesies about transformation that is to come with the coming of Jesus Christ. Speaking the words of God, he says, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

This prophecy explains the new covenant that will come with the arrival of Jesus and the supernatural work that God will do in man as a result of faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. The “blood of Jesus” will wash away all of the“filth”(sin), then God will place a new heart in the one who trusts in Him. The old inflexible, uncaring, hard heart is replaced with a heart that is truly different, a heart of flesh. One that can feel; one that can love God and men. This mystery of the Holy Spirit taking residence in man is something that is so counter to all other religions. The idea that change happens from within rather than being something we do in our own efforts is not the way of other faiths. Instead, in every other religion in the world, obedience is required for acceptance. In Christianity, obedience is the result of “acceptance”. In other words, as we put our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit (a new heart) which is now in step with God’s statutes, so obedience is a natural outgrowth of our heart of flesh which is empowered by the Spirit of God!

Jesus explains this amazing truth to the disciples right before His ascension: 

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8)

The incredible truth of the Holy Spirit is that because of His presence in the believer’s life, “should” becomes “shall”, “can” becomes “will”. The transformation that happens at the moment the Holy Spirit comes into a life is immediate and permanent. The cowardly disciples will now be bold witnesses of the resurrection, preaching without fear of arrest, persecution or even death. These selfish men will become more concerned about the needs of others than their own. The change that happened in the disciples is nothing short of miraculous but is also such an encouragement for us. This life-changing power is in all of us who call ourselves believers. We have a new heart that is tender and responsive to God and others and is no longer bent on our own self-centered agenda! 

So, isn’t this exactly what the world needs right now more than ever? People who are empowered by the Spirit of God to love. While it is great to talk about people changing their attitudes, actions and mindsets because of a new awareness of issues in the world, real transformation is ONLY possible with the Holy Spirit’s presence! What this means for all of us who are Christ followers is one thing. We MUST be witnesses wherever we are. We must not give up or give into discouragement because the message of the gospel is the only one that will change the world! 

YES! This world can be different, but not through changing culture but through changing the hearts of men! Oh Lord, may your message of transformation be the loudest voice that we hear! 

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What the World Needs

There is a concept in the world of psychology called being “self aware”. This basically involves having an understanding of who we are. Our strengths, weaknesses, motivations and true nature. Without self-awareness, people can not change. This is a reality for everyone who needs to make a change in life whether it is losing weight, controlling finances, breaking an addiction…In fact, every 12 step program for breaking cycles of addictions begins with admitting you have a problem. When a person is not willing to admit the problem, transformation is virtually impossible. But, being self aware is not our human default. We are prone to see ourselves differently than we truly are and not recognizing our faults is a natural result of our fallen nature. 

All throughout the Bible we read about people who struggled with admitting their own shortcomings which is one of the reasons why I “know” that the Bible is true! Real people with real problems fill the pages of scripture to remind us that being human means we are not perfect and, in fact, we are lost and very much in need of a SAVIOR. 

One man, who struggled with self-awareness until he came face to face with the truth of his own weaknesses was the apostle Peter.  Peter, the beloved disciple, often just didn’t get it. During the three years Peter spent with Jesus, he had several moments when he was confronted by his own humanness. Each time, Jesus would remind him of his lack of faith, his doubt, his tendency to speak rashly, his inability to stay awake and pray, his humanness. But, perhaps the most profound moment of the raw reality of his brokenness is when he denies Jesus! Of course, Jesus warned him that he would do this, but his lack of self-awareness caused him to tell Jesus, “No,….I will never deny you!” Unfortunately, he did less than 24 hours later. This is just like us as humans. We are all prone to deny, to be unfaithful, inconsistent, selfish because we are all sinners, yet we struggle to face up to these realities and fall into a personal denial of who we really are. 

On the night that Peter denies Jesus, three times, he weeps. I am very confident that his crying was a deep, soulful brokenness where he came to the harsh realization of who he really was. He became very self aware at this moment, but this was the beginning of his transformation. In fact, Peter does not stay in a place of despair and self loathing, he moves past it as he encounters the risen Lord. I Corinthians 15:5 tells us that Peter was the first to see the risen Lord which was surely a life-changing moment for Peter. However, the most beautiful picture of Peter’s restoration comes a few weeks after the resurrection. 

Remember that during these 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus spends time with his disciples preparing them for their new mission: the propagation of the gospel to the ends of the earth! In one of these meetings, Jesus has a special time with Peter. 

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others[f] will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

20 Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” 21 Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” 

What an amazing time of redemption for Peter! For the three times he denied Jesus, he gets three times to affirm his commitment to Him!  As Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him three times, Peter responds with, “you know I love you”. Of course, Jesus is God and knows all things, so He DID know that Peter loved him, but the purpose of the questions were for Peter’s own self-examination. Jesus follows each question, with a command which forces Peter to confront the truth that if he loves Jesus, his love will be proven through obedience; there is action that should follow a proclamation of love. He had claimed to love Jesus before the crucifixion and yet when put in a position to prove it, he caved. Peter’s denial had revealed to him his own weakness- his humanness, and this self-awareness leads to a new commitment. 

Of all of the scenes during the final days before Jesus’ ascension, I think this one most resonates with me and most likely most of us.  You see, when I am being honest with myself; when I am being self-aware, I know I am much like Peter! I am quick to say, “not me Lord, I would never do that…”, but I know I am more than capable of failing Him. Over and over again, I hear myself say, “you know I love you Lord”, but I don’t always live this out in my actions and priorities!  I become so focused on my own agenda sometimes that I lose sight of His call.

As Peter spends time with Jesus on this day, he has an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to the Lord, but he is also given some important marching orders. You see, Peter will be the leader in just a few days from now of a group of Spirit-filled Jesus followers; he, along with the other disciples,  will be the leader of a new movement called the CHURCH, so today is a sort of commissioning service for Peter. Jesus gives him very clear instructions.

If you love me, feed my lambs. 

If you love me, take care of my sheep. 

If you love me, then feed my sheep! 

Jesus was calling Peter to put his love to action and lead the new believers who would soon be under his care. As he restores Peter in the presence of the other disciples he is confirming his calling on Peter’s life and setting him up to be the leader. 

As a leader, though,  He will need Jesus’ final and most important command:“follow me”.  When Jesus first called Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He said “follow me”, and Peter did for three years. But, when Jesus went to the cross, Peter did NOT follow him! Instead he denied Him and ran and hid. This last call was a reminder that following Him is the call of every disciple.  In fact, Jesus stresses to Peter that NO MATTER WHAT anyone else does, “YOU, FOLLOW ME!”  (vs. 22) 

Before Peter could be a leader, he had to own his own brokenness but also recommit to the call to follow Jesus. This call would lead him to persecution, prison and eventually his own crucifixion, but his encounter with Jesus this day fortified and solidified the truth that anything less than total surrender to His Lord was unacceptable. His commitment to Jesus from this point forward is immovable. 

I think this story of Peter has two main takeaways for us. First, just as Peter was forced to do, have you come to grips with your own brokenness? Are you self aware, recognizing that as a human, you are not perfect and even are deeply flawed? Do you see yourself as you really are, a sinner in need of a savior? Second, do you understand that Jesus is calling you to commit yourself to the calling of a disciple. You may not be called to lead the church, but you are called to lead others to Jesus. Every person who calls himself or herself a follower of Jesus, is called to focus only on one thing, Jesus, and making Him known to the lost world around us. We are called to live lives that are not consumed by fear, worry or our own agenda but are lives that are motivated by faith. In the current state of the world we are living in, we can become so distracted by the pandemic that we miss the call to live lives that are dynamic. 

We are called, like Peter, to first and foremost follow Him wherever that takes us! May we recommit ourselves to the call to be a disciple who follows Jesus and leads others to Him. The goal is really not self-awareness but rather self-denial: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” What the world needs is not people who have it all figured out, but authentic, Jesus- focused followers! Will you answer the call?

Read: Matthew 26:34-35, Mark 14:30-31, Luke 22:34, John 13:38, Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-60, John 18:16-27 and John 21 

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When the World Reopens

Day One: ONLY JESUS

What would you do if every day life changed in the blink of an eye? Well, most of us could never have imagined living a different sort of life before March of 2020 – before the pandemic. But now, the reality of a new normal has begun to set in. Before this date, the majority of people in the U.S., specifically, had normal routines. Whether it was getting up for school or work, most of us had a lifestyle that was somewhat predictable. But, on the “day the world closed down” we had to adapt to a new way of living. People stopped getting up and “going” to work but rather computers became the new work space; recliners became the new cubicles and kitchen tables became the new classrooms. Unless someone was an essential worker such as healthcare or grocery store worker…, he or she faced a new way of living that was anything but normal. While people do lose their jobs, retire, face a tragedy that causes life to be different sometimes, most of us have never experienced such an abrupt cessation of “life as we know it”. Along with this change of daily life was a cloud of fear of uncertainty. What are we going to do? When will we find a cure? When we will get our life back?

Certainly this is a new phenomena for everyone living at this time, but in a different way, it has happened before. Let’s take a look back to the 1st century AD and look at a group of people who faced a sudden shift in their normal. But, unlike us, they should have been prepared, because they were told that things were going to radically change ahead of time; however, just like most humans, they were a bit stubborn and slow to accept such a drastic idea. During the three years that the disciples traveled with Jesus, normal life for them was following Jesus as He traveled from town to town teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God and watching Him do miracle after miracle. They walked together, talked together and did life all together. Over and over again, Jesus taught about the future, the time when he would no longer be with them (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31). Conversely, He talked to them about their future (Matthew 26:31,32). yet, they could not understand nor accept his predictions. Just like us, they had become comfortable. They had settled into a life with the master by their side. But, this all stopped- abruptly at the cross. Their world came to a crashing halt with the arrest, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. All of sudden, they went into hiding, fearful for their lives. No doubt, they were asking questions like “what are we going to do?” 

Play the tape forward three days to the glorious moment when their world reopened – the RESURRECTION! This one event changed everything for them! When they encountered the risen Lord, the men (and women) in hiding  became bold, fearless messengers for the gospel. Eventually carrying the message of redemption to the ends of the earth. For the next several decades, these men and others who will be transformed by the gospel will be on a mission to take the truth that Jesus was not just a great teacher, but that He is the MESSIAH, the Son of God, God incarnate “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) This message will be the focal point of this new movement of Christ followers who will eventually be organized as the ‘CHURCH’. 

When the disciples’ world “reopened”, their mission was crystal clear. They did not stumble around trying to figure out what to do because they knew the truth. Death held no more power over them. Fear did not confine them and all confusion was gone. They came out of their confinement with a brand new purpose and nothing could stop them! But what about us? When our world reopens, will we go back to life as we knew it, to our comfortable lives where we don’t take risks; where we are just settled? Or, will we live as fearless followers who understand what the disciples knew? The truth is, our purpose is NO DIFFERENT than the disciples was over 2000 years ago! Our world, more than ever, needs the same message. The message that there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved!” Medicine and science won’t save us; politics and government won’t save us; policies and procedures won’t save us; only one name will save us! Our 2020 world needs JESUS!

As you think about the “world” reopening, what will be your focus? Take a few minutes and write out how you will approach this “new day” we are living in? I believe that God is preparing us as believers for a resurgence of interest in spiritual truth. I believe that the church will see a lot of seekers in the coming months. We need to be prepared with the message and need to be more focused than ever before! Ask God, what He wants you to do in this new season!

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It’s a New Day

Photo by Gianluca Grisenti on Pexels.com

Read Acts 1:1-3, I Corinthians 15:1-11

Who doesn’t love a good sequel? Almost every really popular Disney movie has a sequel, along with many other types of films, likewise, so do many great books. Fans of these stories all want to find out what happens next with their favorite characters, especially when the first episode ended in a cliffhanger! You know it is a great story when you rush out to buy the next book in the series, or you are chomping at the bit waiting for the new movie to be released!  

Easter Sunday may have seemed like the end of a great story, in a way, but to be clear, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a story;  it is the authentic historical account of the most extraordinary “man” who ever lived and the most amazing event in all of history, and the resurrection is definitely NOT the end of the story. In fact, the resurrection was actually the beginning of the next episode of God’s plan. The resurrection not only showcased the power of God conquering death and the grave, but it ushered in a new way of life for all of the disciples and all of those who would come after them.

After Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time, the writer Luke tells us that he continued to meet with them on different occasions for the next 40 days: To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

While the Bible doesn’t fully describe every meeting Jesus has with them during the time before his ascension, we can definitely put the pieces together for a picture of what God was doing during those 40 days after the resurrection.  Here are a couple of things we can be sure about: 

  1. He was strengthening their faith. Think about it. Every time Jesus appears to the disciples post resurrection solidifies the miracle of the resurrection again. If He had only appeared once, it would have been easier for the Jewish leaders to stop the message and just write off the disciples testimony by suggesting they were just “hallucinating”. This idea that the disciples were all hallucinating is one of the theories skeptics try to use to explain away the resurrection. (Read more here.) The concept that the disciples were ALL hallucinating and just “thought” they saw Jesus on numerous occasions is simply an implausible theory! Remember also that over 500 people saw Jesus after His resurrection, which makes this hypothesis even more preposterous. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Beyond all of this, the disciples’ changed behavior (from depressed and afraid to excited and bold) does not coincide with being emotionally unstable and prone to hallucination. Each appearance of Jesus fortified and built their confidence so that after being put in jail for preaching the gospel, they could boldly say, “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
  1. He was Modeling the Life they were to live. Each time Jesus appears in the scriptures during these 40 days, He gives the disciples another picture of how they should live. Although He had spent three years instructing them on how to live before His crucifixion and resurrection, just imagine how much more impactful His lessons were after the resurrection. Now, there were no doubts anymore, no questions on who this “man” was. They were confident that they were talking to the incarnation of God, and this made everything He said or did during this time of monumental importance. We can be sure that everything He said or did during this time was done in preparation for the launch of His plan for reaching the world! Once He left, they would need to carry on and take this message of redemption to the ends of the earth. But to get this message to the whole world, He knew it couldn’t be a lone ranger operation, it would need to be a coordinated, unified effort fueled by the power of God and a community of supporters.

So, although we don’t know everything about what He said and did during this time, one thing we can be sure of is that He was fortifying His troops and getting them ready to march into the battle of their life, and He knew they would need each other. His time with them during this 40 days would help shape them for the next episode, the sequel – the birth of the church! 

 If you think about it, there is no better time than the present to learn more about the only institution ordained by God to impact the world! For the next several weeks, join me in a new Bible study/devotion: It’s a New Day- Why our world needs the Church more than ever before.  

Each week we will look at passages from the gospels, Acts and other books in the New Testament to discover, or rediscover a Passion for the Church!  

Go to the Bible study tab for more information about the weekly Bible study or grab your Bible and a journal and follow the blog.

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I Want to Believe

During this crazy world we are living in right now, if you are like me some days, you are watching press conferences, reading updates on your phone or computer just trying to find something positive to hold onto, desperately hoping to read of a new breakthrough that will allow us to return to some sense of normalcy. There is no shortage of news on the issue; everyone seems to have an opinion, a different angle and sometimes it is hard to sort out the facts from the fiction! But, if I am honest, the question on my mind most often is “whose words can I really trust?” We know that the media is basically a biased source for information. In fact, there is no such thing as truly unbiased reporting because people are all individuals with so many different ways of seeing an issue that it is impossible to filter this out when relaying information. This is a tough place for us to be in a world with so many unanswered questions. This is why we need a trustworthy source of authority, and for me and millions of other people in the world, the word of God – the Bible- is where we find this stability!

God’s word provides a solid foundation, an anchor for us to place our trust in, especially during this season! But, for many, God’s word may not hold the stability they need because they struggle to believe it is true! The struggle to believe is nothing new, in fact, it began in the Garden of Eden. From the beginning of human history, people have wrestled with doubt (an inclination not to believe or accept a claim), but we all need to believe in something. We need faith. Like breathing is to our physical body, faith is the foundation of our spiritual being and to not believe (not have faith) means we are “dead” spiritually.

Now in case you are someone who struggles to believe, let’s take a peek into the gospel of John and look at one of the first recorded conversations that happened after the resurrection! 

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29) 

This story is well known and has earned Thomas the title “doubting Thomas”.  You see, Thomas was away when Jesus came to the disciples on Easter Sunday. When he shows up they tell him that they have seen Jesus, and he simply doesn’t believe them. He explains, “unless I see…I will never believe”. Even with the testimony of all of his brothers, he just can’t make the jump. Now, before we get too tough on Thomas, remember what they are asking him to do. They are asking him to believe that Jesus, who suffered and died an unfathomably, cruel and painful death and was buried in a tomb with a Roman guard for three days is now fully alive!! Honestly, this is a hard message to wrap your mind around if you are someone who saw the crucifixion. But, I think that despite Thomas’ claim, he desperately wants to believe it is true!

Play the tape forward eight days and Jesus shows up again, but this time, Thomas is there. Right after Jesus says, “peace be with you”, He addresses Thomas. This episode gives us a window into the tenderness of Jesus and also His omniscience. He knows Thomas’ struggle, in fact, even though Jesus is not there when the disciples talk to Thomas the first time, He knows exactly what Thomas is feeling. Jesus tells him to “see” His hands and to touch His hands and His side to feel the wounds. Of course, Thomas immediately believes and worships Him: “My Lord and my God!” What made the difference for Thomas? The encounter with Jesus! The moment Thomas comes face to face with the walking, talking, risen Lord changes him forever! He is now spiritually alive!

The next words from Jesus are monumental for us. He tells Thomas, you believe because you see, but “blessed” are those who believe without “seeing”. This is faith, a belief in something we can’t see but we KNOW is true! But you may be saying, but it is hard to believe in something I can’t see. But, is it really? We believe in a virus we can not see; we believe in the words of the scientists who are navigating this pandemic; we believe that a vaccine can protect us from a disease, but all of these things are just based on the words of mere men; in fact, we have to trust in something we can’t SEE. So, believing is not really our problem!

Science provides us helpful information, but it is fallible. This pandemic has made this crystal clear. No matter how smart we are as humans, we will never have all of the answers. We must find something to put our faith in that is reliable and unchangeable. What we need is an encounter with the risen Lord! And, we can find Him through His Word! Jesus, himself, made this clear in a conversation earlier in His ministry: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. (John 5:39)

If the Easter season is about anything, it is about becoming a believer! I love how John wraps up chapter 20: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31) The Bible was written so that we can find the answers to the crazy world we are living in. The answer is Jesus who can be found all over the pages of the Bible, and it is in BELIEVING in Him that we have LIFE!

In a time, when there are lots of voices trying to tell you what to believe, hopefully, you see that it is time to commit yourself anew to the study of scripture and encounter Jesus each and every day!

Join me in a new Bible devotional series published by-weekly entitled- IT’S A NEW DAY (sign up on this site to get updates)

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Day Eight: Sunday, April 12th RESURRECTION DAY

empty tomb

Read Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1:1-11

Today, all over the world, people are celebrating the greatest comeback story ever told – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Yet, this is not a story. It was a real event that literally changed the course of history and began a movement that has transformed the lives of billions of people during the past 2000 years. Without the resurrection, we have the story of great teacher who was falsely accused, and ended up dying on a cross. With the resurrection, He solidifies His teaching that He was not just a great teacher. You see, on numerous occasions, Jesus claimed to be God. (Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, John 8:24, 28)  The Messianic title Son of Man and the words “I am” were known by all of the Jews as titles reserved for God Himself, so on the day when He rose from the grave, He proved this once and for all! No one has ever raised from the dead, it is not natural. Resurrection from the dead is a supernatural occurrence and reveals that Jesus is truly who He said He was. Not a great teacher, who did a lot of great miracles and died as a sacrifice, but THE RISEN LORD!  Because of the resurrection, we who believe in His name will also not die but will have everlasting life! (John 3:16)

While a resurrection from the dead can not be scientifically proven, if you put the case on trial, the evidence is so overwhelming that no one who gives it an honest investigation can walk away and deny its validity. In order to say that the resurrection did not happen, a person would have to deny evidence that is beyond explanation any other way. Thousands of skeptics have tried to disprove this event, and all who were honest in their evaluation of the evidence, came to one conclusion: It happened. When you come to this verdict, you have no other choice but to put your faith in Jesus as God and this in turn changes everything! You read His teaching differently, knowing that everything Jesus taught was God’s instruction for man. You desire to obey, knowing that what He did – dying on the cross for you – was done out of a great love for His creation. See, the reality of the resurrection makes everything make sense! 

All four gospel writers record the resurrection. Each of the writers gives the details of this event from different angles, but there is no debate on whether it happened or not! The Bible and history learned from extra-Biblical literature makes the case for the resurrection rock solid. First, consider the disciples. Remember yesterday they were hiding out, afraid to come out in public for fear of arrest, but after this day, they are completely changed. They go from fearful followers to fiery preachers almost overnight. They preach about the resurrection with such confidence that no warnings of beating, imprisonment or death can deter them. You see, something changed them and there is no other logical conclusion except that they must of come face to face with the risen Lord. When you have an encounter with the risen Lord, you are a never the same again! Then, there is Paul. Paul was a zealous persecutor of the early church until one day he meets the risen Lord. His whole life and mission changed on that Damascus road, and He boldly preaches and writes about the reality of the resurrection for the rest of his life. Also, Jesus’ brother, James, who did not believe Jesus was the Son of God before the resurrection, becomes a believer and important leader in the early church! (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Change like we see in these men is not natural. It is only possible because of something supernatural – A man rising from the dead! 

Another important aspect of the resurrection is the empty tomb. Unlike the majority of famous people throughout history, there is no grave to visit for Jesus Christ. A trip to Israel won’t take you there because the tomb was empty!  The Pharisees and religious leaders floated a rumor that the disciples stole the body, but think about it, these men were hiding out in fear just hours before the tomb came up empty. What would have caused them to come out of hiding, fight off a Roman guard and move a giant stone? It is not logical, and also doesn’t explain why almost all of them eventually died a martyr’s death. Why would they die for something they knew was a lie? Additionally, during the days that follow Christ’s resurrection, if they had stolen the body, the Romans would have found it and held it up for all to see. Jesus appeared to over 500 people after His resurrection. The gospels were written while these people were still living, so if the resurrection had not happened, someone would have said so, but that is not what happened. Instead, billions of people  have believed in the resurrection and have changed lives to prove it. Christianity is a movement that has been attacked throughout the past 2000 years, but nothing and no one has been able to stop it because the truth can not be silenced! It happened, and because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this world has never been the same! 

The resurrection was a miracle! The greatest miracle of all time and isn’t that what we are all longing for? A miracle? We want them to find a cure for this “silent enemy” which has attacked our lives. We are in the fight of our lives as we race for a cure, a vaccine, answers. We want our lives back, our jobs back, our peace back! This war we are in feels relentless and we wonder if we will ever win! But, wait, VICTORY is what this day represents! This one event was a game changer ending satan’s plans once and for all! Peter’s words are true: “God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24). Death had no hold over Him, and it has no power over us who believe anymore. In fact, the power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us through the Holy Spirit! “ The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” Rom. 8:11. Because of the Spirit’s power, we can overcome sin’s grip on us. As we daily yield our lives to Him, we can experience victory on a daily basis!! I pray that we can truly understand the truth of what the power of the resurrection means! This prayer from the apostle Paul is my prayer for us as we face this pandemic: 

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Let’s rejoice; let’s celebrate; He is ALIVE and His Life gives us both abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven!

To God be the Glory; Great things He Has Done!

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Day Seven: Holy Saturday, April 11

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Read:  Matthew 27:59-66; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42

Holy Saturday is the seventh day of the Holy Week and many see it as the day that Jesus “rested” from His work. The last phrase uttered by Jesus on the cross was “it is finished”! His work on earth was indeed finished as His plan to “give His life as a ransom for many” was complete! Because His work was completed on the cross, “in Him[we also] have been made complete” as the apostle Paul explains in Col. 2:10.

From the scripture standpoint, there is very little recorded about this day. The burial probably happened right at the end of Friday before the Sabbath which began after sundown. Typically, Romans were in charge of the body even after death, and their custom was to leave the body of a criminal on the cross for days to rot and be eaten by wild animals to serve as a reminder to others of what happens when a person goes against the Roman government. The Jews, however, didn’t want any bodies left up during Sabbath and especially during the season of Passover, so they had asked Pilate to have them removed. After Jesus was confirmed dead, Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, both Pharisees and secret disciples of Jesus, (John 19:38) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, in order to give Him a proper burial. It’s remarkable that the fate of even the executed corpse was in Pilate’s hands. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead according to Mark 15:44 because usually, crucifixion was a long, agonizing death, yet Jesus was dead in a few hours. His death was confirmed, however, by careful examination of eyewitnesses (John 19:31-36), and Pilate gave his permission.  No doubt, the removal of Jesus’ body was a physical and emotional experience for Joseph and Nicodemus. The Bible says that they wrapped the body in strips of linen with seventy five pounds of spices (myrrh and aloe) which was the burial custom of the Jews. Before they could wrap the body, it would need to be prepared. This means that all of the foreign matter would have to be removed from the body, and then it would be washed. Preparing the bloodied and bruised body of Jesus knowing He was innocent must have been difficult for these men who didn’t follow Christ openly while He was alive. Yet, they are the ones who take care of his body, and the disciples, who were always by His side during His earthly ministry were no where to be found. I daresay that there were other Pharisees who believed in Jesus in secret – and many more will definitely believe after tomorrow!

Jesus’ burial is an important part of the gospel. (I Cor. 15:3-4) References to His death, burial and resurrection will be used over and over by the disciples in the coming days. The fact that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb is a fulfillment of prophecy: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) The burial fulfills several predictions that Jesus made about Himself: (Matt. 12:40, 16:21, Mark 9:31, 10:33-34, John 2:19) His burial proves His death. Some religions and people who do not believe in the resurrection claim that Jesus didn’t really die but actually survived the crucifixion. A Roman crucifixion was not survivable but beyond that Pilate would never have given permission for His body to be taken unless he was certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was truly dead. Yes, Jesus died physically and His burial provides further proof.

But before we look any further into the events of this day,  let’s be clear about about what Jesus was doing on this day! He is not just wrapped in the linen cloth that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Him in, sleeping! The gospel writer Luke describes Jesus’ final moments on the cross like this: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23: 46). This particular passage contains some important information. First, it solidifies that while Jesus’ physical body died on the cross, His spirit was very much alive! In fact, His spirit was committed into the hand of the Father which is exactly what happens when Christians die. The spirit of a person goes on living in the presence of God; absent from the body; present with the Lord ( II Cor. 5:8). Another important proof that Jesus’ spirit is still alive is found in His conversation with the thief on the cross. Jesus tells this man who recognizes that Jesus is NOT just a man in Luke 23:43, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, Jesus’ work of redemption was finished on the cross, and now He awaits the Big Day!

Behind the scenes, an event that we do know happened on this day is recorded in Matthew 27:62-66. The chief priests and Pharisees pay another visit to Pilate asking for him to secure the tomb because Jesus had said that after three days He would rise, and they were worried that the disciples would steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. You have to wonder what Pilate was thinking about this desperate group of religious leaders who couldn’t seem to be satisfied by anything! Pilate tells them you have a guard “go make it secure”. Not only did they set a guard but they also sealed the tomb. A quick note about the Roman guard and seal. The Roman guard was sixteen men strong governed by very strict rules. Each member covered six square feet of space. There was no sitting, leaning or sleeping allowed. If this were to happen, the guard would be beaten and burned in all his clothes and the whole unit would also be killed because of the one guard’s failings. The Roman seal placed over the tomb authenticated that the tomb was occupied and Rome stood behind the seal. All of these precautions should have given confidence to the religious leaders that this menace, Jesus, would not bother them anymore! Of course, it is almost Sunday and well, they will discover that nothing can hold Jesus down!

What were the disciples doing on this day? Mark 14:50 tells us that when Jesus was arrested, ”they all left him and fled.” In John we read that they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of being arrested. Mark indicates in 16:10 that they were mourning and weeping. All of this tells us that disciples were not walking around Jerusalem or going with life as usual. They were grieving, afraid and keeping themselves hidden for fear of being arrested because of their connections with Jesus. You can imagine their sadness. This incredible teacher that they had just spent the last three years was just killed. They had believed that He was the one who was the promised Messiah but now He is gone. Although He had told them over and over again what was going to happen (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31), they didn’t really understand it. Based on all of the times that Jesus had told Him that He would have to suffer and die but would then come back to life, you would think they would be excited, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting. However, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that these disciples were awaiting His resurrection. In fact, the disciples’ fear and lack of boldness after Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the reasons that we know the resurrection was real! Their radical change after the events of Sunday is a pivotal point in history!

As disciples of Jesus, what are you doing today? Since we have the benefit of scripture to follow, we should be living in anticipation. Much like advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, we should be eagerly awaiting the events that will come tomorrow, with the faith and excitement of a little child! Additionally, we can rejoice and ponder the reality of what yesterday means. His death fulfilled the wrath of a Holy God for our sins. His blood poured out offers us forgiveness once and for all. His righteousness becomes our righteousness: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” II Cor. 5:21) Today’s focus should be gratitude! Despite living in this time of uncertainty, there are many things we can be certain of because of what He accomplished on the cross! What He did for us should cause us to offer up prayers of thankfulness and praise! We have been given an amazing gift, even though we don’t deserve it! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Today is a great day to give thanks!

The time for great celebration is just hours away! 

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Day Six: GOOD Friday, April 10th  

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Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 23, John 18-19

Good Friday is the day that is traditionally set aside to remember Christ’s crucifixion. While some may wonder why this is a “celebration” , a deeper look at not just what happened but what it all meant allows us to fully reflect on this truly Holy Day that is the climax of Christ’s life and central to Christianity.

This day actually begins early in the morning. To be more accurate, Jesus never sleeps. After spending some very intimate time with His disciples in the upper room for the Passover meal last evening, Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. A study of Christ’s life shows that He regularly prayed, but this prayer was different. It was the most heart wrenching prayer He has prayed thus far. In His humanity, He is in mental anguish over what is about to happen. The suffering that He is about to endure is known to Him and He cries out to God:“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. … And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44) This cup that Jesus speaks of is the cup of judgement. The physical suffering will be nothing compared to the great agony of having the Father turn His back on Him as He is judged for the sins of all mankind! He knows this is required, but in His humanness He must wrestle for a time with this. In the end of course, He submits to the Father’s will, a beautiful example of surrender!

The next event is the betrayal of Judas, as he brings the religious leaders to arrest Jesus. While Judas’ betrayal is expected and even fulfills prophecy, the experience of being betrayed by someone close to you couldn’t have been easy. Besides Judas’ betrayal, He will experience the denial of Peter, one of His closest friends. When we experience painful relationship situations, let us remember that our Lord understands and knows the pain of betrayal, abandonment and rejection! Also remember that both Judas and Peter suffer as well, Judas bitterly faces the reality of his actions and Peter weeps over the depth of his sinful choices. While Judas’ remorse leads him to hang himself, Peter’s pain leads Him to repentance and ultimately, restoration, showing us that sinful actions will always lead us somewhere. Some people choose to become paralyzed, despondent and miserable as they look at their failures and stay there falling into a deeper hole of bitterness, anger and brokenness, but others, like Peter, allow the experience of failure to lead them to admit their sin and receive the forgiveness that Christ offers!

The events that occur next are a series of informal and “formal” religious trials, three to be exact, but none of these trials follow the standard rules set up by the Jews for a “criminal”. They provide no evidence in Jesus’ favor which would be the regular protocol despite the numerous miracles He has performed in front of them. Instead they twist His words, make up evidence and even flat out lie in order to support their bogus claims against Him. Along with this sham of a trial, they also verbally abuse Him, mock Him, blaspheme against Him and beat Him. They knew He was guilty of nothing, yet they were determined to get rid of Him because of their own pride and self-centeredness. Because they are not allowed to actually execute anyone, they take Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and then to Herod. Despite all of their accusations, Pilate finds Jesus innocent as does Herod.

Pilate is interesting because history tells us that he was an evil ruler who regularly showed no mercy to the accused, but according to the gospel writers, he tries to release Jesus, finding nothing worthy of death. This is quite remarkable. A man who wasn’t religious at all is more merciful than those who claim to be religious! Unfortunately, this is sometimes true in our world today, people who claim to be Christians show less mercy to people they dislike than the irreligious! As some who are far from God have said, “I have no problem with Jesus, it is the Christians that I don’t like”.  Let’s never be guilty of showing less mercy than the lost world! 

Pilate tries to appease the Jewish leaders by ordering Jesus to endure a brutal Roman scourging, but he is unable to convince the Jewish leaders to accept his innocent verdict and in the end succumbs to their demand to have Jesus executed. These corrupt leaders even incite the crowds to cry “crucify him, crucify him” in a frenzied roar thus forcing Pilate to give in. Pilate isn’t innocent of Jesus’ blood, but Jesus himself tells Pilate, “you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)  The truth that this quote clearly reveals is that Pilate, Herod and the religious leaders had no real power over Jesus’ fate despite what it may seem. In fact, Jesus has already revealed this in an earlier teaching when He told the disciples,” I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). These leaders will definitely be held accountable, but don’t believe for one moment that they were in control! God allowed all of this to carry out the greatest rescue mission ever!

The climax of this real drama happens next as Jesus goes to the Place of the Skull called Golgotha to be crucified! The gospel writers don’t go into depth about what the crucifixion was like because everyone during that day understood the brutality and torture of a Roman crucifixion. Designed to produce a slow and unimaginably painful death, the crucifixion was one of the most humiliating and horrific forms of execution to ever be used by any civilization. This is what our God endured for us! While on the cross, Jesus speaks very few words, but what He does say is monumental. The most incredible are the words, “Father  forgive them, for they know not what they do.” On the cross, in incomprehensible pain, Jesus prays for His executioners! He intercedes on their behalf which while this is hard to imagine for us; it is precisely why He is there! He came to die for the sin of ALL mankind! Sin put Him on the cross, but what keeps Him there is LOVE.

The LOVE displayed on the cross this day in 33AD is why this day is called GOOD FRIDAY! You see, justice is a concept we all understand.  The Jews knew this. For 1000’s of years they had been offering sacrifices for breaking the laws because sin demands payment. In all cultures through the ages people have created systems for how crimes are paid for. We all know this. When someone breaks a law, a consequence must follow. When someone owes a debt, it must be paid. We all believe that no one should get away with a crime, there must be justice. Sin is the great crime that we have all committed. Sin against a Holy God is a debt that must be paid! The message of the cross is that  instead of God demanding us to pay this debt, He does it Himself. He leaves heaven, He humbles Himself to become like us; He gives up the glory of heaven to experience temptation, loneliness, rejection, grief, and unfathomable pain to take our place. Someone has to pay and He willingly does this for us! Is there any greater example of love than this,“That someone lay His life down for his friends”!

With all that is happening in our world in 2020, we are all longing for some good news. We wake up every day hoping to hear something positive and encouraging, hoping soon we will be free from the disease that has stopped our lives for now. Yet, Good Friday means that for all of us who accept Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, we are rescued from the prison of our own sin and are debt free! This is the freedom we really long for, and this is the freedom we have because of Jesus!  This is really GOOD NEWS!

The truth is: IT REALLY IS A GOOD, GOOD FRIDAY! 

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Day Five: Holy Thursday, April 9th

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Read Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–30, John 13:1-20

Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as some refer to it, is the day that Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples. This event is most often called the Last Supper and is the event that instituted the Christian sacrament of Communion. Many churches have a special communion service on this day to commemorate this event. At this meal, Jesus reiterates His purpose using visual symbols that would be central to the church that was about to be born. At this meal, Jesus also predicts Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and teaches about true greatness. After the meal, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane where he is arrested by the religious leaders and carried off to begin the longest night of His life.

At the beginning of the day, Jesus sends His disciples, only Peter and John, to prepare the Passover meal. A couple of quick points here is that the way Jesus does this indicates that He knew the Jewish leaders were about to come for Him, so He needed the preparation and place of the meal to be secretive to avoid arrest before the meal was done. By sending only Peter and John, He kept the location of the meal secret from Judas who was looking for a quiet place, away from the crowds, to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders. Another reason for only sending Peter and John is that only two people were allowed to go to the killing of the lamb because of the law and for practical reasons. Based on historical documents, there were 1000’s upon 1000’s of lambs slaughtered during a two hour window, so as you can imagine space was limited!

The process by which they would have prepared the Passover would have gone something like this: Peter and John would purchase an approved lamb and take it to the temple to be slain. They would then go to the place where it would be held and roast the lamb and make sure all was ready for the meal.  In the Jewish calendar, a new day began at nightfall, so Wednesday nightfall to Thursday nightfall was the day of preparation for the Passover meal. The Passover meal itself included: 1) Roasted Lamb  2) Bitter Herbs  3) Unleavened Bread  4) Fruit Sauce  5) Four cups of Wine. The meal would have been shared after sundown that evening (Thursday nightfall to Friday nightfall).

In the original Passover, the blood of the lambs had been applied to the homes of the Israelites in Egypt to protect them from the outpouring of God’s judgment upon the Egyptians (Exodus 11-12). Matthew alone records Jesus telling his disciples that His time is at hand on the morning of the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed. This is a good place to mention that up until this time, Jesus consistently told the disciples that His time had not yet come, but now the time has come. From the place that they would have the Passover meal to the arrest to His eventual crucifixion, God Himself is in control down to the last detail! While He will suffer a horrific death, Jesus’ death is not a result of a series of unfortunate events out of His control. On the contrary, everything is a part of His plan, His plan to save the world!

While we can assume that the actual Passover meal was taken in the traditional way, the reason taking the meal this night was so important was because Jesus needed to use elements from this meal to symbolize what He was about to do and what He wanted them to do in the future to commemorate this event. As He takes the unleavened bread, He holds it up and tells them, this is “my body”. Unleavened bread is used during the Passover because it represents the Israelites leaving Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time for the bread to rise. However, in the gospels, Jesus actually uses leaven to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Bread without leaven actually suggests the idea of something being without hypocrisy- real, genuine.  In John 6:35-51, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life that has come down from heaven and anyone who eats of this bread will live forever…” As Jesus breaks the unleavened bread on this night, He reveals that He is the REAL sacrifice that will be given for all men!

With the cup of wine, He gives new meaning to the covenant that Israel has had with God for all these years. In Israel’s covenant with God, blood has always been required for the remission of sins. The blood of the Passover lamb represented God “saving” the Jews from death and rescuing them from slavery. Now, as Jesus takes the cup, He explains that a new covenant is being established between Israel and God. it represents His blood that will be shed for the forgiveness of sins.  This is a new covenant that He is establishing with Israel. The establishing of a new covenant was prophesied in Jeremiah 33:31-33, and on this night, Jesus announces that this prophecy will be fulfilled as His blood is poured out for all!

As we reflect on the events of the this day, may we truly understand the significance of the practice of communion. May it never get old as we come to the table remembering our Lord as He willingly came to the cross!

While this last meal with the disciples held monumental significance for the disciples and for us as believers today, one very important event that we can’t leave out is detailed in John’s gospel:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 3-17)

This account of Jesus washing the disciples feet just hours before He goes to the cross is almost too much for us to comprehend, the God of the universe stooping down and taking the form of a servant. Of course, this is what the incarnation is all about. God becoming a man, stooping down to become like one of us, so that He could show us what true LOVE looks like and to set an example for how we can live! He could not be more clear! True “greatness” is found in humility and service to others. While most of us have heard this story, I am not sure we truly understand the full significance of this in 1st century AD.  Make no mistake, this was not the action of a typical ruler. Leaders and rulers would NEVER serve their subjects. In fact, all throughout history, this has never been the posture of those in power. This is why this scene and the one that will happen less from 24 hours from now is so remarkable. In Mark 10:45, Jesus defined his purpose: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” but today through washing their feet and tomorrow as He goes to the cross, His purpose is fully illuminated!

Willingly placing ourselves in a position of humility is not the normal way we operate as humans, in fact, our default mode is to strive for “greatness” by pushing our way to the top. We long for significance in the world’s eyes by getting more degrees, a better job, a bigger house, more stuff, or praise from men. Yet, our Lord defined significance through taking up the towel! His example should challenge us, convict us and, ultimately, change us!

What is interesting about this Holy Thursday in 2020 is that the virus that has wreaked havoc on our lives has actually leveled the playing field in many ways. Everyone from rich to poor has been sidelined and put in a position of “serving others” by staying home. Everyone has been humbled in a way by the sheer lack of control over what is happening. Maybe it is time for us to follow Christ’s example and put into practice the words of II Chronicles 7:14: if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land!” 

 

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Day Four: Holy Wednesday, April 8th

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Read Matthew 26:3-16, Mark 13-14, Luke 21:5 – 22:6

Holy Wednesday is referred to by some as spy Wednesday and by others as silent Wednesday. Of all of the days of the Holy week this one has the most varied interpretations. While we can’t be sure of all of the specifics that occurred on this day,  What we do know is that tomorrow Jesus will celebrate the Passover with the disciples and the next day He will go to the cross. With this information, we can surmise a few probable events.

The name Spy Wednesday refers to speculation that this was the day that Judas confers with the chief priests and officers to turn Jesus over to them. We know from previous days’ events that these leaders have been seeking how to arrest Jesus. They are desperate to get rid of Him and this has all intensified since Jesus’ triumphal entry on Sunday. Remember on this day, Jesus allows the people to worship Him as the Messiah as He enters on the “foal of donkey” just as it was prophesied. He has been teaching everyday mesmerizing the people with His powerful words that reveal His authority, so much so that people are flocking to Him, “hanging on His every word”. Luke 21:37-38 tells us that “every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him” which leads us to assume that He is continuing to teach on this day as well.

Taking the traditional interpretation of Spy Wednesday, we will take a look at the Jewish leaders plan aided by Judas to arrest Jesus.  One of the interesting aspects of this event is the time; it is the time of the Feast of the Passover. Because of this, Jerusalem is packed with pilgrims who have come to the gather in the city for this all important festival. Many scholars estimate the numbers to be very high, 100’s of 1000’s. This fact alone raises the dramatic tension in the city. Large numbers of people made the potential for a riot much higher and not only were the Jewish leaders aware of the probable results of a public arrest, the Romans were also on high alert knowing that the large number of Jews could mean a possible uprising against them. One of the reasons we can assume that Rome was concerned is because of the presence of Pontius Pilate and Herod in the city.  Typically, these two leaders ruled from Tiberius and Ceasarea, but this week, they are here in Jerusalem for this Passover festival, presumably, to oversee the peace.

With the temple courts packed with enthusiastic pilgrims all seeking to hear the great teacher, the Jewish leaders recognize that arresting Jesus would undoubtedly provoke a riot. They are very aware that Jesus’ popularity will lead to a public protest that would  subsequently draw the Romans into the mix. This is why when Judas comes to offer to expose Jesus privately for 30 pieces of silver, they jump on the chance. Judas, being one of the twelve, is the perfect traitor. He knows the habits of Jesus, he is privy to intimate details of His whereabouts at all times, and as John tells us, Judas “was a theif, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6)

Despite his love of money, it’s difficult to understand why Judas would do this horrible act. He had walked with Jesus, seen Him do miracle after miracle, heard His mesmerizing teaching, experienced His supernatural compassion but at the end of the day, he never saw Jesus as anything more than a potential way out of Roman oppression; he wanted a “savior” but he had no interest in a Lord. No doubt exists that Judas didn’t really “know” Jesus, not because he didn’t have the chance to, but rather because he didn’t want to! Since it was prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed, some might say that Judas didn’t really have a choice, but make no mistake, he had a choice. God is not a puppet master; He is a loving Father who allows us to choose to love Him. Judas had a choice and he chose to betray the only person who loved him with an everlasting love!

Sadly, this is the state of many who call themselves Christians. They don’t really know Jesus, and this is obvious because of the way they live their life. They might even choose Jesus as “savior” but trusting Him as Lord does not fit their agenda. Betrayal can happen in many ways. A couple of synonyms for the word betrayal are faithlessness and duplicity. Most of us would never ever see ourselves as a “betrayer” but is it possible that we struggle with faithfulness and loyalty to Christ. Do we always stand up for the truth no matter who we are around? Do we obey even if it means we are left out? Do we act one way when we are around our Christian friends and another way when we aren’t? Do we want Jesus to be our Savior but aren’t willing to give Him the total Lordship of our life? Make a decision to live as a faithful disciple. We always have a choice. 

Let’s take a look at another person in Jesus’ life that made a different choice. We read about her in Matthew’s gospel: 

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Simon the leper was most likely a man whom Jesus had healed who had become a follower.  The woman is Mary of Bethany whose brother was Lazarus. You may remember Mary as the one who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and worship while her sister Martha ran around preparing food (Luke 10:38-42). When Mary anoints Jesus, it is clear that she has insight into who He is and why He has come. Kings and priests were anointed, so anointing Jesus is more than appropriate!  In fact, her anointing His body was a sign of worship proving she saw Jesus as more than just a great teacher! Jesus calls her act a “beautiful thing” and praises her actions, but He acknowledges that this is not just a ceremonial anointing but rather a preparation for His burial! What is quite remarkable is the the disciples don’t get it! They are indignant that she would “waste” this precious perfume that could be used for the poor. This perfume is expensive, so her act cost her something. Yet, when you consider what Christ will be giving up in just two days, this perfume is nothing.

Mary is often referenced as the one who loved extravagantly; she wasn’t worried about what she was giving up, she chose to pour out this costly perfume on Him with complete abandonment and sacrifice. Although He won’t be buried for two more days, this woman’s uninhibited, unashamed act of love serves as a balm for Him as He approaches the day of ultimate suffering. She prepares Him for burial by loving Him greatly!

As we reflect on these final days of Jesus’ life on this earth, consider if you are willing to give up what is “costly” to you to truly worship Him!  This Easter, 2020, we have been forced to give up a lot for a season: our freedom to move about, our vacation plans, our parties, our traditions and, in some ways, our peace of mind.  Yet, because of what will happen two days from now, none of that should matter. In many ways, Mary’s pouring out of the precious perfume is symbolic of the “pouring out” that Jesus will do because of His great love for us! Because of this act, we will gain eternal freedom from sin and death, riches unimaginable and everlasting peace! So, doesn’t He deserve our wholehearted worship this season and every season? As we approach Jesus, let us be like Mary; let us choose to love our Lord with the same sort of deep emotion and surrender, giving up our worries, fears, doubts, anxiety, busyness and superficial cares of this world, and focus only on Him! May we truly love Him extravagantly!

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Day three: Holy Tuesday – April 7th

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Read Matthew 21:23—23:39; Mark 11:27—12:44; Luke 20-21

Holy Tuesday is the third day of the Holy Week and while not all churches have services on this day, a study of the gospels shows that Jesus did a lot of talking this day! There is no doubt that many important conversations happened and that Jesus wanted to solidify some important truths in the minds of His disciples because He knew they would need them once He was gone! Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from today! 

As Jesus enters Jerusalem this morning, He heads to the temple.* The temple is where He set up His ministry while in Jerusalem, and this infuriated the religious leaders. The main reason for this is clearly, jealousy. You see, every time that Jesus was around the people flocked to him. When He healed, they were in awe. When he spoke, they listened. Not only did they listen, but they were enthralled by His teaching. Words and phrases such as “astonished”, “marveled”, “hanging on his every word”….are used by the gospel writers. Over and over again, His actions and words proved His power and authority, yet the Pharisees could not stand it nor accept it. Why? Because He offended them. He was the “stumbling block” that the “builders rejected” (Acts 4:11). Ultimately, He threatened their power!

When He enters the temple this day, the religious leaders are still reeling from the previous days’ events. His clearing of the temple was followed by a time of healing and teaching (Matthew 21:14-17), where the people cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”. The Messianic titles poured out in praise to Jesus caused the religious leaders to become indignant, prompting them to begin questioning Him. Their goal was to trick Him and cause Him to say something that would incriminate Him, so that they can arrest Him, but alas they could not! In fact, Jesus showed His ability to use logic and reason to shut them down! They questioned him about His authority, His obedience to the laws of the land, the resurrection of the dead, and His answers not only silenced the Pharisees, but the Bible says they “marveled” at his words! 

The hypocrisy of these religious leaders who claimed to serve God was too much for the Son of God to just overlook. During these confrontations at the temple this day, He calls out their behavior through a series of parables that are clearly meant to reveal the coming judgement on the Pharisees and religious leaders. Matthew records the “seven woes” message that was directed toward them to serve as a warning of what was to come. Jesus’ ongoing chastisement of the Pharisees attitudes and hypocritical behavior should cause us as believers to reflect on our attitudes.  The sin of pride was rampant among the Pharisees, but sadly, many Christians suffer from this as well. Looking with judgmental eyes toward others, comparing our actions with theirs can lead us to a pharisaical type of attitude. We can begin to think we are better than others, trying to use our “good” works to prove our worth. Yet, just as the religious leaders failed to recognize their own depravity, we too can forget that “there is none who does good….not even one (Psalms 14:1-3).

Although Jesus had many confrontations this day, there are a couple of very important conversations to note. One is the conversation recorded in Matthew 22:34-40. When one of the Pharisees, “a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36 ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” In this one verse, He sums up our purpose! Love God and Love People. Although you have most likely read these verses on numerous occasions, you may not have ever realized that this conversation was toward the end of Jesus’ life. To know that after all of the teaching He had done, and Old testament verses He had quoted, He sums everything up in these two verses. He wants them to know when He leaves that THESE are the ones which matter! An interesting note here is that during the 1st century AD, people did not “love” their neighbor. Serving others was not a Roman behavior nor an attitude of the religious leaders. What Jesus was suggesting was radical and would be a crucial part of the church that is about to emerge a few days from now! Interestingly, these are the exact words we need now! Loving our neighbor through acts of service whether it is staying home or giving and serving where we can is the most Christ honoring behavior we can do.

One other important conversation was when Jesus watched the people putting their money in the temple treasury and notices a poor widow who gives her two coins which is all she has. Her behavior becomes an object lesson for the disciples as He tells them that her offering was more than all of the others, although she gave the least. This is in stark contrast to the self-righteous Pharisees He has just addressed, whose large gifts were done for show. Many of the parables He has been teaching this day dealt with the topic of who will be accepted into the kingdom. The religious leaders believe that their status as ancestors of Abraham and position as “keepers of the law” are their ticket to heaven. However, Jesus’ message is clear. The kingdom of heaven is not for those who think they deserve it, but it is for those who know they do not!

As you reflect on all of these conversations from the scripture today, consider an important truth. First, what is your own attitude toward your sins. The Pharisees were quick to point out the sins of others but did not seem to see their own sins. Their hypocrisy was an abomination to God and Jesus made sure they knew that. If you are honest, do you sometimes struggle with a Pharisaical attitude? Do you fall into trying to seek your own righteousness through your own “keeping of the law” – checking off boxes, comparing your “good” behavior to others, practicing obedience without a relationship? We have to remember, that No matter how hard we try or try to look like we have it together, we are NOT good in our own abilities.

Remember that THIS is why Jesus came! THIS is why He will go to the cross at the end of the week! We are all sinners and can never be “good” enough on our own; we need a Savior! Today is a good time to remember this! Today is a good time to ask Jesus to give you the right attitude! Today is a great time to put your faith in His goodness! 

https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojtuesday

*Let me share a little more information about chronology again as it relates to the different days and events during Jesus’ last week. When we read all of the different gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we may question the timing as we notice the different order of events. For instance, in Matthew it seems that some things happened on the same day, whereas in Mark, events seem to be occurring on the next day. Since there is rarely mention of specific days of the week until we get to Friday, we have to look at all of the gospels along with other historical records and background information to put together a timeline. With this in mind, it is helpful to understand that all of the gospels have different authors, therefore, different perspectives and priorities in the way they write. We are making inferences, in many cases, on which specific day an event or conversation happened. We also have church tradition which provides some framework for a timeline. Despite the apparent differences in some of the timing in the gospels, we discover that each account gives us different details that can help us understand the other account a little better and, in the end, we can make an educated guess on the chronology. For the most part, this devotional follows the traditional timeline.

 

 

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Day Two: Holy Monday – April 6th

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Read – Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48

Reflection– In the traditional calendar, this is Holy Monday. Even though many churches don’t have any special services or remembrances on this day, there is no doubt that Jesus had a full day, and his actions give us insight into what were some of his most important messages during these final days!  

In Mark 11:11, after the triumphal entry on Sunday, the gospel writer, Mark, explains that Jesus went out to Bethany to spend the night which was often his custom when visiting Jerusalem. One interesting point to understand is that Jerusalem was crowded during this week, in fact, extremely crowded since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread-Passover celebration and Jews from all over had come to the Holy City to participate. Some scholars estimate upwards of two million people could have been in and around Jerusalem during this time. This would explain one of the reasons that Jesus would not stay in Jerusalem at night. The other was that Bethany is where his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha live, and so that would have been a comfortable place for him surrounded by friends during this final week.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem that Monday morning the first recorded activity was an encounter with a fig tree. Jesus was hungry and looked for food. The fact that Jesus experienced physical “hunger” reminds us of his humanness. In His deity, He would not have been hungry, but in his humanity he was. When He sees a fig tree with leaves but no fruit on it, His next action is surprising; He curses it and it withers immediately. You see, this type of fig tree only produced leaves when there was fruit on it, so it was truly an imposter. It looked “fruitful” but had nothing to show for it.

All throughout the Old testament, the metaphor of a plant (fig tree, vineyard, seed, tree) is used to describe Israel.  Many prophetic words describe the fate of Israel’s disobedience and lack of fruitfulness ( Isaiah 5:1-7, Ezekiel 17:1-10, Hosea 9: 10-17). Because of this fruitlessness, Israel ended up in captivity twice (Assyrians and Babylonians). When Jesus curses this fig tree. on this day, it is another clear sign that Jesus is no mere man. Only God could curse the fig tree and cause it to wither and produce no more, and this immediate pronouncement of judgment was very instructive for the disciples. This was the state of Israel at the time, and in a tangible way He was demonstrating that hypocrisy had no place with His people. Having an appearance of godliness (leaves) without the fruit was just like the Pharisees and religious leaders, and this was further proof that judgement was coming for them. The disciples are truly taken back by this bold move by Jesus and ask him how this could happen? Rather than giving them an explanation, His response points them to faith and to prayer and alludes to their future role in the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:33-44). 

The message of the fig tree to the disciples is a message to us as disciples today. As we live our lives are we just giving an appearance of godliness? More specifically, during this Holy season, do we just “look religious” or are really focusing on Christ Himself? A very important point here is that trees don’t produce fruit, they yield it. They don’t try really hard to make the fruit, they are fruitful as they obtain the nutrients from the soil. In other words, having a lot of religious activity is not a sign of fruitfulness, but staying rooted in the soil of God’s word will bring forth fruit in our lives. Our righteousness is not based on us, it is based only on His power. Every time the Israelites disobeyed and and turned to other gods, they stopped yielding fruit. We should recognize that God truly desires for us to live authentically, yielding fruit that comes from a heart focused on Him, because the consequences of hypocrisy are great!

The second event that happens this day is the cleansing of the temple. This is the second time that Jesus has had to exercise His authority when it came to the activities going on in the temple. Referencing two Old Testament passages, He reminds them of the purpose of the temple, what it is and what it is NOT.  Isaiah 56:7 says that the temple is to be used as a “house of prayer” which is very different than what the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrifices were doing. They were making a profit, driven by greed rather than a heart to pray for the nations. In Jeremiah 7:11, God pronounced judgment on Israel for the evil they had done, turning His house into a “den of thieves”. Not only were they making a profit off of selling the sacrifices, they were essentially robbing the people.

Two important thoughts should be considered here. First, Jesus using His authority in this way, really revealed who He was. Remember the day before He rode into town in humility on a colt, today He is exercising His Kingly authority by cursing the fig tree and driving out evil. Jesus, God in the flesh, made His identity clear. Jesus showed us that God is a God of peace but also of righteous judgment! He is a God of Love and a God who demands Justice!

This year, there is no need for new outfits to buy, no opportunity for big Easter egg hunts, or large family reunions…This year, as we approach Easter Sunday, the celebration will be different, so maybe the message of the fig tree and the temple are more relevant than ever. In fact, this abrupt cessation of all gatherings and typical celebrations is a sober reminder that when all is stripped away, all that matters is Jesus. May we never forget His power and authority and that He alone deserves our devotion!

Consider this as you prepare your heart during this Holy week: God no longer dwells in a temple made by man, but rather in our hearts! This should motivate us to keep our hearts uncluttered by greed, jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, or any other self-focused (fruitless) thoughts as we come to God in prayer! 

Additional Historical background information https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojmonday

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Day One: Palm Sunday – April 5th

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For Christians all over the world, Easter is the most important celebration of the year. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central theme of Christianity. His victory over sin and death makes Christianity uniquely different from all other religions. In the religious world, this week is referred to as the Passion week (which means “to endure” or “to suffer”) or the Holy Week. For many of the Christian faith, it is a time of great reverence and celebration.

But, something is different this year! Something is gravely different. We, as believers are facing something that we NEVER saw coming – the cancellation of public EASTER services!  While we live through this pandemic, we are quarantined in our homes, unable to worship in large gatherings. Thankfully, we have technology and many can still worship from our homes, but we are all feeling the deep loss of community, of celebratory group praise and the shared experience of studying the Word of God together. While this feels terribly tragic in many ways, maybe this is an opportunity to experience Easter in a different way? If you consider our Lord, this was, in many ways, a very lonely week for Him. He knew He was at the end of the journey and everything that happens during these final days is leading up to the cross!

For many of us, we are usually so busy we don’t have time to stop and study daily, but  maybe this year is different. In a time where every day is filled with a lot of unknowns, how about taking some time to do this daily devotional of a walk through Jesus’ Final week on this earth and be encouraged in your fears, doubts, grief and uncertainty? Let’s redeem the time and experience Easter like we never have before!

DAY ONE:

Read Matthew 21:1-11 and Luke 19: 28-40

Reflection: Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem for the final time.  He entered Jerusalem on Sunday* for the last time in what is known as the “triumphal entry.. Exactly one week later, he has the ultimate “triumphal” re-entry into the world through the Resurrection! In between these two events, Jesus experiences a multitude of emotions.

The significance of this whole event cannot be overstated. Up until now in Jesus’ ministry, He has shut down all attempts to hail Him as king in an open and public way. Over and over, He has told the disciples that His time had not yet come. When those who had been recipients of miracles wanted to spread it around, He told them to not make it known But today is different. Today is the day He allows them to worship Him as king!

Why is this day different?  First and foremost Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel. In fact, the passage in Daniel is very specific about the date that the Messiah will enter into Jerusalem. (Dan. 9:24-27). When studied closely, the day Jesus enters fits the specifications described by Daniel to a tee. The fulfillment of prophecy doesn’t stop there. In Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years before this event, the Messianic prophecy involves how the King will come: “lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Psalms 118:25-26, another Messianic prophecy, is fulfilled by the peoples’ shouts of “Hosanna, hosanna.”

The fulfillment of these prophecies is profound because the statistical probability of Jesus fulfilling even one is quite remarkable, but there are three in this one event. During the whole week, prophecy after prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus, which, is a mathematical impossibility, giving solid evidence for the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.

Another reason why this day is so profound is the way that Jesus comes: “on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” His entrance in this way emphasized His humility, as one who came to bring peace not the sword, as a humble servant rather than a conquering king.  While Jesus deserved all the honor given to any earthly king and exceedingly more, He rejected this sort of reception and chose a less “showy” sort of display of His royalty. He did allow them to worship Him, but it is clear that He allows this because His “time had come.”This praise especially would be the catalyst that caused the Pharisees and religious leaders to finally arrest Him, thus fulfilling more prophecy. Everything about this day was calculated and planned by God to fulfill His ultimate plan of redemption.

A final thought to consider as you reflect on this day: only a few days from this one, the crowds will be shouting a different sort of message: “crucify, crucify.” How could this happen? I think it is because they didn’t know Jesus as Lord. They praised Him because of what they “thought” He was – a king who would set them free from Roman oppression But He never promised that, and in fact, told them that was not His plan! (Luke 19:11-12)

I guess the question for you and I is, do we “really” KNOW Him as Lord? As you approach this week, can you join in the cry, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and really mean it? Although “hosanna” may sound like a declaration of praise, it is actually a cry for salvation. It essentially means, “please, save us.” As the people shouted this, they wanted “salvation” from the Romans, but what Jesus’ would bring is something so much more wonderful. His sacrifice a few days from now would give them salvation for eternity, but they didn’t understand. They wanted salvation on their terms rather than trusting in the God who had always been eager to “save.” Do you understand who He is or do you want Jesus on your own terms?

If you do understand why He came, then this day should be a day of rejoicing over the reality of who He is, a king to be worshipped, in fact, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS! (Phil. 2:10-11)

Ask God to help you gain a deeper understand of Jesus’ deity. He came to this earth to live as a man, but make no mistake, HE was no man! He was and is the LORD OF ALL!

*For the sake of historical accuracy, I need to state that the chronology of the events of this week are up for debate. First, the gospel writers did not necessarily write everything in pure chronological order. The Roman and Jewish calendars differed quite a bit, so this could account for differences in the timetable among writers and historians. Some believe the triumphal entry actually happened on Monday while others hold to the traditional Sunday entry. If it is on Monday, then the other days would also have a slightly different focus, particularly Wednesday. From Thursday on, there is little debate. In the end, being overly dogmatic about the chronology of the events of this week doesn’t serve any practical purpose. For the sake of consistency and clarity, this devotion sticks with the traditional calendar but acknowledges that there are other plausible views on this timetable.

Here is an interesting video put out by Crossway Media with some extra historical facts about what was happening on this day – A.D. 33

https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojpalm

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Don’t Waste this Experience

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Many years ago I heard a phrase that I have used over and over again in conversations with other people and in my own life.  The phrase is “God never wastes an experience.” I have no recollection of who I heard this from or I would give him or her credit but what I do know is that it is true and it has encouraged me in some of my darkest times. What exactly does it mean? Well, the meaning is simply that no matter what we have been through in the past or are experiencing in the present, we can be confident that God can use it in our lives! 

Of course the phrase itself is not from the Bible, but the message is in essence found all throughout the word beginning in Genesis. In chapters 37, 39-50 we can read the incredible story of Joseph, son of Jacob who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, and then spent a long time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. However, during his time as a slave and prisoner, God was preparing him for something great. From the time he was sold, Joseph went through numerous adverse situations, but through each of them he maintained his integrity and trusted God, and the scripture tells us that God was “with Joseph” in his difficult circumstances. In the end, Joseph was raised to second in command to the pharaoh and was responsible for saving thousands of people including his own family from starving to death during a devastating famine. When he finally meets up with his brothers again his words to them are not what the brothers expect: But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50:19-20)  Rather than being angry at them for what they did to him so many years ago, Joseph recognized that God took the bad situation and used it ! In other words, for those who trust in him, God never wastes an experience! 

This incredible truth comes up again in many other places, but one of the most familiar is Paul’s reminder to the Romans: 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The key phrase in this verse is “ALL THINGS “ which implies both good and bad circumstances in the hand of God can be turned into our good! An important point about this verse is that it follows a discussion about how to deal with suffering!  In other words, when you are facing difficult times, you can KNOW that God will work through that to bring about good things. God never wastes an experience! 

The essence of all of these phrases is God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is the truth that He alone has the power, wisdom and authority to do anything He chooses. But, let’s remember that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts, so that when things happen good or bad, we may not necessarily understand them!  But, as we think about the Biblical story of Joseph and Paul’s letter to the Romans, we can KNOW that God makes good out of bad, that He uses all things in our lives to accomplish His purpose for us.! Yes, God never wastes an experience! 

With this understanding, can we learn to face our current situation in quarantine with all of the circumstances that surround it with an attitude of confidence? Can we learn to see that in all things He is able to make it GOOD!  This is not careless optimism; this is unconditional faith! To live in this is a daily decision, but the best option if we want to find joy in the midst of the storm. 

So, God never wastes an experience, but do we? I mean, in the middle of this crazy situation where we are “stuck at home”, are we using this as a time to connect with God on a deeper level through Bible study, prayer, journaling…? Can we recognize the blessing of more family time, more time to help others? What about all of the times we have said, “if I only had more time”? I think today is a great time to decide to make the most of this experience, as we place our trust in the ONE who is WITH us and is sovereign over ALL THINGS!

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Does God Care? 

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We are living in uncertain times. This is not a statement I would have written a little over a week ago, but today, it is real! As things began to spiral out of control last week, I found myself going to familiar passages like Psalms 23 or others that I knew that would encourage me in the face of my fears. Yes, I have struggled, more so than I would like to admit. A few nights ago this almost paralyzing fear came on with full force! As I heard stories of the people in our community who were “exposed” or getting “a test”, I started to slightly panic! “What if”? I ruminated on this fear over and over until I was beginning to find myself mentally out of control! My husband, whose faith and calm astounds me at times, kept trying to encourage me, but I was “too far gone” to really listen! It was night time, of course, and I was destined to a fitful night of rest at best. As I lay there with all of the thoughts, I started praying. I prayed fervently with “fear and trembling”  but I prayed and fell into a restful sleep, and something happened as I slept, something remarkable. I woke up with a new perspective – a completely different perspective and most importantly, peace. The “what ifs” of last night became possibilities not problems; they became opportunities not obstacles; they became blessings not barriers. This is what prayer does, and this is who God is. He really cares about my fears and He met me there. 

 In I Peter 5:7 , Peter tells the readers, who were Christians under persecution, to “Cast all you anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” As I called out to God that night  and “cast my anxiety on Him” He saw my fears and filled me with his Peace. 

Later that day a friend sent me the next two verses as a word of encouragement:    Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith and in the knowledge that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. (I Peter 5:8-9)

Being sober minded means having a mind that is clear, not one filled with all sorts of negative thoughts spiralling out of control, but we also must be alert. If we aren’t careful, the devil will sneak up on us with crippling fear and toxic thoughts because he is here to destroy us, all of us! The enemy knows that I am vulnerable to fear, (as many of us are) so he will be looking for ways to “paralyze” me with fear so that I won’t be fruitful for God. Thankfully Peter also gives the antidote to this very real enemy’s plan. First “resist him”. This means to withstand his attack- don’t let him have any power over you by “standing firm in your faith”. The enemy can not have power over us when we stand in what we know to be true! What is the truth that we know? GOD CARES! And we need to add the final verse of this passage:  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 

None of us know how long our current state of uncertainty will be with us, but one thing we can be certain of is that GOD CARES, and He is able to take our problems and make them possibilities. He is able to carry all of our burdens and help us resist the enemy’s lies. He is able to make us stand firm and immovable in the midst of difficulties. He alone is able to help us conquer our fears! This is a message for me, for you and for the whole world right now!